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Crux of the matter

Crux of the matter
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First Published: Sun, May 30 2010. 10 25 PM IST

Photo: Raajan/Mint
Photo: Raajan/Mint
Updated: Sun, May 30 2010. 10 25 PM IST
The company still needs another two years to level out on some of its scorecards to come near to the operating metrics that it desires to work under,” said C.P. Gurnani, CEO of Mahindra Satyam, recently, at a press conference to mark one year of his company’s acquisition of scam-tainted Satyam. To which most people responded, “Huh?”
Photo: Raajan/Mint
While Gurnani’s use of three sets of two-word jargon in one sentence is indeed the heavy artillery of corporate-speak, most of us are guilty of carrying around at least a handgun disguised as “paradigm shifts”, “interactions” and “functionality”. For those of us not “on the same page” as the jargon “optimizers” in our workplace, here’s a quick guide.
Time Poverty
This is for the really well-paid. Hey, we are an egalitarian society and just because you as the CEO get paid 200 times more than the junior executive does not mean you cannot ruminate with the poor. You are poor too. You suffer from time poverty. While this is mostly used as an excuse to get out of that boring office birthday party, folks at a consumer goods company might use this in PowerPoint presentations too. Thus: “The consumer will spend Rs20 more for this can of tomato ketchup because the lid opens 20% faster and she suffers from time poverty.”
Usage: “I can’t play a second round of golf today; debilitating time poverty this weekend.”
Not to be confused with one of the writers of the four Gospels, the corporate evangelist is a person who spreads the good word about anything he is passionate about. If you want to kill someone for thinking up this jargon, look no further than the software companies. They even put it on employees’ visiting cards.
But of course, the evangelism that truly impresses is one that goes beyond the job title.
Usage: “I am a fitness evangelist; feel free to worship my six-pack.”
Operating Matrix
This is a tough one. Imagine you are making a table of all the things that are important to your company. What do you put on top of the columns? Revenue, profits, margins, number of employees, etc. All of this taken together is the operating matrix of the company. In short, things that matter. Use this term for instantly disseminating the fact that you are top management. And if you want to impress further, make it plural. Nothing says top dog more than “operating matrices”.
Usage: “We are cruising along well on our operating matrices.” Or if you are seeking sympathy, “Our operating matrices are keeping me awake at night and considering my time poverty, my stress levels are peaking.”
Just an adult way of saying “report card”. Because as the CEO you can’t say, “Sorry madam, I took the report card to the chairman, who was so angry he refused to sign it for me.” Scorecard makes it sound all above board. Nothing inspires more shareholder confidence than hearing the words, “Our scorecards indicate…” It’s fine, the shareholder will tell himself—they have scorecards. They know what they are doing.
Usage: “The dog ate our scorecards.”
Data Points
This is engineering’s contribution to the business world. Why say “numbers” when you can get two-word jargon out of it?
Usage: “We have data points, our data points look good, but we can’t share our data points with you right now.”
Action (Verb)
This is the finest example of occupational verb-ification of a noun. And one that conveys both authority and aggression at the same time. Compare being told “take action on this” to “action this right away”, and you get my drift. “Actionable”, the adjective, is the forward-looking cousin of this verb (hopefully by the time the next version of Microsoft Word rolls in, they would have actioned its inclusion into the dictionary and the red spellcheck line under the word will have been eliminated).
Usage: “I’m actioning it right away. I actioned it yesterday.”
In other words, moving on after burning some cash. Several postponed deadlines later, when the team of 40 people assigned to scope a project comes back with an empty PowerPoint presentation, the next step is de-scoping. Since anyone saying “I made a mistake” has no place in the corporate hierarchy, “We decided to de-scope” is the officially accepted way of conveying the same message.
Usage: “That strategy is still a game changer, but for now we have decided to de-scope.”
Once the decision to de-scope is done, the next step is blamestorming. Also known as the meeting to which you hope you are not invited. This is the democratic exercise that will decide who should be blamed for the current, presumably unfavourable, state of affairs. While all blamestorming meetings do not end in conversations with the HR department, some meetings will contribute inputs to the “downsizing” list.
Usage: “This afternoon’s blamestorming meeting will be an all-hands one. Grab your seats by 3.”
Flight Risk
An employee whose résumé is very actively floating around www.naukri.com. Flight risk is used in the context of inclusion in new projects, sharing competition-sensitive information or contemplating a promotion. This can also be used very strategically to try and quell a colleague’s good prospects, especially when uttered in completely informal settings.
Usage: “X for vice-president? Wow, but he is a flight risk even with Eyjafjallajokull.”
The justification for jargon
V. Anand Ram is dean, administration, and professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. He tells us why management jargon exists and when it should be used. Edited excerpts:
What is management jargon?
Jargon is a vocabulary of technical words. They have a purpose, they help you in economizing on the language and they help you in having precise communication. But the main requirement is that both the speaker and the person these words are thrown at must be able to understand the meaning.
Because management as a profession has, of late, become a sought-after profession and also something that gives you a lot of visibility, there is a tendency to use this jargon to separate yourself from the rest of the crowd. When you use jargon, you are really announcing to the world,“Listen, I am a different breed”, and that is why it gets overused. You also see that happening to a large extent in business schools, that people use this language to make an announcement about their uniqueness. That’s the other purpose of jargon.
Do jargon words have a shelf life?
Jargon changes with fashions. As and (when) new management methodologies come in, these terms tend to become popular. For example, (the) balanced scorecard was popular at one point, so “scorecards” have become part of jargon. There are many such jargon (words) that have come and gone based on the popularity of some of these new ideas— downsizing, re-engineering, human capital management. People tend to overuse those terminologies depending on what is in fashion at any particular point in time.
Don’t management schools and books propagate jargon?
To a certain extent, yes. Books certainly, schools to a lesser extent. They create a language that serves the purpose of communication between people who are in the school. What is more important from a communicator’s point of view is understanding whether jargon (is) helping in conveying an idea or (is it) helping in masking an issue. So, if you’ve gone through a course of management, sometimes you may use language more to hide what you don’t know than to demonstrate what you know. I would think that excessive use of jargon is a clear indicator that the guy is not very clear in what he wants to say.
Are jargon users more effective managers?
Effective managers are people who are good at communicating—that means they are able to make sense to the receiver of the communication. Effective managers will take particular pains to make sure that they speak in a language that is understood by the recipient.
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First Published: Sun, May 30 2010. 10 25 PM IST
More Topics: Workplace | Jargon | Poverty | Evangelist | Matrix |