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Management Jargon

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Management Jargon
by Gary Watkins  

While chairing a disciplinary hearing concerning the non achievement of sales targets by a sales person, I was faced with a total onslaught of sales jargon. In those years we did not have the benefit of “googling” the meaning of these phrases, and as a human resource practitioner, and by implication an expert in corporate jargon, I somehow suddenly felt uneducated.

While we all appreciate the efforts of the plain language movement in eliminating overly complex language from academic, legal and other circles, we have some reservations.

Stripping language of all foreign language terms and phrases somehow leaves the original bereft of all that made the language interesting. How can one replace such terms as “bona fides”, “causa causans”, “res ipsa loquitur”? They are as much a part of the English language as is the reality of the Roman conquest of Britain. Hadrian’s Wall is as much a monument to the Ancient Roman’s achievements as is the living threads of Latin which permeate the language today. Equally in South Africa we have new words which have quietly integrated themselves into South African English. The English equivalents of "ubuntu", "imbizo", and "bosberaad" do not quite convey the same meaning, either linguistically or culturally.

On the other hand, while the plain language movement seemingly goes about its job of making language accessible to everyone, and recommending amongst others that when writing, the passive voice should not be used; or foreign words should not be used when there is an adequate English quid pro quo, this movement somehow has escaped the world of business jargon. On the cynical front it is perhaps because the plain language movement is synonymous with Americanism.

Returning to our underperforming sales person, when asked why he did not achieve his sales targets, it was explained that:

“He was busy exploring various green fields, and he expected a white horse to emerge at any stage, from which he could funnel sales. Unlike his sales colleagues, no bluebirds had appeared on the horizon yet, but he was extremely confident that the company’s new value proposition and its succinct USP would assist going forward in evangelising new prospects within the product and market silos.”

At times our sales person's defence sounded like an extract from the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, all equally incomprehensible.

So in short, keep the foreign language phrases but dump the jargon. They are very different things. The former is the product of centuries of civilisations impacting on each other, the latter, the product of “management speak” by management consultants punting their next publication with very little to offer – here today, thankfully gone tomorrow.

Equally in the field of human resources, as we search for Talent and embark on Talent Acquisition strategies, conduct Human Capital Cost Accounting, and balance Scorecards and try to adopt every passing management fad, the world’s great institutions survived for centuries because they are or were centred around some basic principles: great leaders, shared beliefs, self discipline, common goals, acculturation and enculturation and community interest.

In conclusion, our sales person was dismissed for lack of performance. Regretfully incomprehension was not a listed charge.

Gary Watkins is CEO of

Read more about cartoonist  Mark Wiggett

Back to ... Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 8, 2007


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