IBM: One buzz phrase = 5,000+ layoffs

TalkLikeTheBoss_1_Buzzword_Layoff

4,701 = the number of words in IBM’s (Q4 2014) latest earnings release.

4 = the number of times the business buzz phrase workforce rebalance was used.

5,000 – 10,000 = the estimated number of workers that will get laid-off by a “workforce rebalance.”

In IBM’s latest earnings release, the business buzz phrase workforce rebalancing was used only four times—or less than a tenth of a percent of all words used in the document. And just like that, thousands have/will be kicked to the curb to search for new employment. Some IBM experts claim that this may be the largest layoff in corporate history but most refute that claim and put the number somewhere between five and 15 thousand layoffs of which are still huge numbers! But if you’re anxious to find out the exact number of layoffs, don’t hold your breath. Like many large corporations, IBM is being cryptic on the actual amount of workers they plan to terminate.

Justified? Probably…but it’s all in the way you do it

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are valid business reasons why any organization would need to reduce their payroll. However, I find it rather disturbing that this life-altering event is only mentioned four times throughout the entire earnings statement. And worse, this huge round of terminations is referenced inconspicuously behind a generic business buzz phrase called “workforce rebalancing.” And these big companies have the nerve to talk about transparency.

Sure, I get it, it’s an earnings report and therefore the primary focus should be about the company’s financials. But aren’t those workers worthy of more than just a mere 0.08% mention? Why couldn’t the executives use sympathetic and appreciative language to refer to the workers who will be impacted by such an unfortunate event? Or just maybe IBM could have been a little more forward and call this ugly thing exactly what it is—layoffs—and not the more tactful business buzz phrase of “workforce rebalancing” to avoid saying the obvious.

Am I alone in here?
Maybe I am alone in my reasoning but frankly I don’t care. I believe these (soon to be) laid-off workers deserve more from an organization that likely meant so much to these workers’ livelihood. Even if IBM used appreciate language to describe these laid-off workers in their earnings report—will that bring back these jobs? I wouldn’t bet on it…but please don’t miss the point.

Like a funeral, where survivors carefully invoke kind words, and perform thoughtful gestures to properly honor the one they lost—IBM could have used their earnings statement to publicly express sincere gratitude towards these unfortunate folks. At the very least, these workers deserve that small token of dignity.

Because for many of these laid-off workers, this tactfully phrased “workforce rebalance” will feel much like a funeral.

-Steele

 

Subscribe_TLTB_112413

Join the TLTB clan and get the good stuff
directly in your inbox

Three Buzzwords that Offend

TalkLikeTheBoss_words_that_hurt

“John is apart of the rank-and-file so his bonus potential is limited. But you don’t have to worry about all of that Steele…you’re one of us—a titled executive.”

That’s what my boss told me a few days ago. And while I should be blushing from his compliment, I somehow felt slimy.

Although he gave me kudos for being one of the anointed ones, the fact that he referred to John as someone that was expendable did not sit well with me. And worse, I instantly became aware of a practice that somehow eluded me until this moment. At that very moment, it suddenly occurred to me that before I started this role—my most senior role to-date—leaders referred to me with derogatory buzzwords like “rank-and-file” when I was not present. Wait, what?

Who you calling “rank-and-file”?
Newsflash for those who’ve outgrown their breeches–that person that brings you your mail each day is someone’s mother, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s friend and possibly someone’s inspiration. And she has a name…try learning it sometime.

That faithful worker that churns out those reports to your liking, day-in and day-out, is more than just a peon. That person has dreams and goals.

Here are three popular business buzzwords that offend:

Headcount
A long time ago within a leadership meeting that I shouldn’t have been in based on my lack of seniority but somehow got invited to; I heard the business buzzword headcount being used frequently. It was not long before I realized that the buzzword “headcount” referred to workers, and furthermore the phrase that I kept hearing in this meeting, “headcount reduction” was code for layoffs. “But how did such a nebulous term–headcount, come about?” was the first question that came to mind. I mean, wouldn’t it be easier to use the more universal term employee or worker? And just like that the answer came screaming to me —they use headcount to generalize, desensitize and ultimately dehumanize people. ‘But why would corporate executives want to do that?’ I asked myself. To take the sting out of the decisions they make that have a significant impact on someone’s life—like layoffs. And what’s really disturbing is that buzzword “headcount” is institutionalized within the corporate structure – particularly within the human resource department of an organization.

If I had a most hated buzzword list, Headcount would easily be somewhere near the top. It’s no secret that this buzzword was created for the sole purpose of replacing humane words like workers, people, or better yet—actual names like Joe, Kathy and Sophia. How much more difficult is it to say, “we’re going to send 43 workers home tomorrow without a job” versus “we’re reducing headcount by 23% within the next three weeks”? Clearly the first statement is much more difficult because it immediately evokes the emotion and imagery associated with people losing the means to care for their family and themselves financially.

Rank-and-file
With its roots buried in a military bunker somewhere, the buzzword rank-and-file—a term used to refer to lower ranking personnel, likely arrived in the corporate setting from a patriotic veteran that got promoted up the corporate ranks. Or maybe some bonehead that watched one too many episodes of MASH.  It doesn’t matter how rank-and-file got introduced into our professional lives, we need to stop demeaning people with it.

Temp
Short for temporary, temp is another derogatory business buzzword that needs to cease to exist. On the surface, this buzzword does not seem to be offensive in anyway. I mean, the worker in reference may indeed be a temporary worker whose employment is defined by a finite end date. However, what I’ve noticed more often than not, is that permanent employees do not even take the time to learn the temporary worker’s name. They simply, and rudely, refer to them as “one of the temps.”

I have a personal experience with this offensive buzzword. In the midst of the Great Recession, My wife and I began our professional lives. And like millions, my wife found it very difficult to find permanent work in her field so she often found temporary employment opportunities. And then one day she called me on the brink of shedding tears because she overheard a worker refer to her as a temp—well after she had been there for weeks, long enough for that person to know her name. Not to mention that she completed multiple assignments for this particular person (literally handed them the requested assignment). I totally understood the source of her frustration and sadness because this person interacted with her on almost a daily basis. But of course, this jerk didn’t know she was in earshot of his insult. She has a name and he should have taken the decency to learn it.

We ARE human after all
Although headcount, rank-and-file, and temp are very commonly used business buzzwords—there are a lot more–paper-pusher, underlings, peons. Nevertheless, the moral of the story is just that—morality, decency and simple humanity. To say it plainly, we need to put an end to terms that are inhumane, offensive and demoralizing. There is no excuse for it. For humanity sake, lets stop cruel language in its tracks. We are all a member of one community—the human race. Lets start behaving and treating everyone with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

For humanity sake…

- Steele

Subscribe_TLTB_112413

Join the TLTB clan and get the good stuff
directly in your inbox

Three Buzzwords that spell DOOM

TalkLikeTheBoss_Words_that_spell_Doom

If you recently bought a house…or got married…or welcomed home a precious bundle of joy—trust me when I tell you that you would not want to hear these three words at your job.

And what makes these (code) words of DOOM especially perilous is that they each have a common meaning, outside of the corporate context, that lends itself to neutrality and in some cases benignity.

But as grandma often said, “you can’t be old and a fool” so without further ado:

Wait, Consolidate is a good thing, no?

At first glance, the word consolidate comes off rather neutral because in a business setting, consolidate is often associated with process improvement of which, under normal circumstances, is not necessarily an abhorrent concept. Process improvement most certainly resonates with the MBA types that once read a case study that illustrated the importance of exploiting efficiencies to extract maximum value while utilizing the least amount of effort and resources…and blah, blah, yeah, yeah, as the story ends with the company being wildly successful.

But that’s where you would have assumed incorrectly. What the bosses failed to tell you is that the word consolidate in the corporate world mostly refers to two things—getting rid of people or getting rid of things (or both). Clearly the key phrase here is “getting rid of…” which, in most cases, is not a trait of a thriving company (you know, thriving companies tend to expand, not contract). So dust off that resume and dry clean those suits when you start hearing the word consolidate being tossed around the office like a football.

Pressure rising?

All that you have to do is listen to an earnings call from any of the Fortune 500 companies and you’ll think these corporate execs are going to implode from all of the pressure they claim to be experiencing. “We have some pressure here…and more pressure there.” This pressure that they speak of is a code word used to convey that the organization has had challenges in a certain area or function. And as the pressure builds, per se, the bosses find ways to get rid of it. To put it plainly, big corporations hate pressure—and thus they rid themselves of it. And more often than not, the answer comes in the form of cost cutting that could translate into a round of layoffs.

So if the pressure is at an all-time high at your job—vow to make the “apply” button on a job application your pressure release valve. Now start pushing away.

Read more

Stop Calling Minorities – “Inner-city” and “Urban”

TalkLikeTheBoss_Urban_Inner-city

Who woke up one morning and decided that it was a good idea to refer to minorities and low-income people as “inner-city” and “urban”?

Not cool.

I suppose I was in third grade when I learned that the word “inner-city” literally referred to the center of a city, and “urban” as an area within or in close proximity to a city.

Nowhere in my adolescent education (and the dictionary for that matter) did I observe the terms “urban” and “inner-city” used in a way to refer to African-American, Hispanic and other minority communities as those terms are often used today.

Sure I get it, well-intentioned people want to avoid using words that can be perceived as offensive to certain cultural and socioeconomic groups because, as many have witnessed recently in the media, news of people caught saying inappropriate words travels at eye-blink speeds (just ask Paula Deen).
Read more

When Opportunity Knocks, You Better Run! – Buzzword Alert

TalkLikeTheBoss_Opportunity

Every now and then I hear a buzzword used in a way that angers me to the point of almost punching a hole in a wall. The buzzword “opportunity” is one of them. Let me explain…

Opportunity used to mean something good. As a child I was taught to seek opportunities and be thankful anytime I ever received one. Dictionary.com defines opportunity as: a good position, chance, or prospect, as for advancement or success.

Well, leave it up to big corporate to change this once promising term to the complete opposite of its original meaning. When I hear the word “opportunity” said in the office, my skin crawls. Why, you ask? These politically correct, best-practice mongers had the gall to alter the word to mean weakness, or to reference an area that needs improvement.

Read more

Transformational Change – Featured Buzzword

buzzword-template_large_010114

Transformational Change

Obviously because change that doesn’t transform is no longer good enough these days. Don’t get us started on this phrase…we will just keep it really simple and say that it means to make a significant change that would put the organization on a different path or trajectory. In the age where most big companies are clawing to “reinvent themselves,” this phrase has become prevalent in most large companies.

“We are striving for TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE this year and we cannot achieve it without the help of our greatest assets, which of course is all of you guys.”

Drive (Driver) – Featured Buzzword

buzzword-template_large_010114

Drive (Driver)

To lead or serve as the leader of an initiative.

“We need Jesse to DRIVE this exercise by staying on top of the business owners and ensuring that they are executing against the recommendations.”

Is Your Company Stealing Your Salary?

TalkLikeTheBoss_Salary_Thieves

Is your company robbing you of the salary you deserve? Possibly.

The one thing I painfully figured out early in my young career is — the method in which companies are able to cheat many of their employees out of the salary they rightfully deserve.

Are you wondering if you’re one of the many victims? Keep on reading because you probably are.

Aside from the most popular method of salary thievery, which is, the initial salary the worker receives upon being hired, the next method of thievery is executed through a series of internal promotions.

So how do they rob me of the salary I deserve?

Companies use the internal promotion, or the practice of hiring an internal candidate for an open role, to secretly whittle away at their employees’ salaries. I painfully uncovered this discreet practice from a personal experience with one of my first employers. And to ensure that I wasn’t being picked-on, I validated my suspicion of this practice by conducting interviews of over 50 professional colleagues from varying years of experience, organizational rank, industries and corporations (and about 50% of them were HR executives).

It works like this; with each internal promotion a worker receives, the company will strategically pay the worker below the market rate, which allows them to save money (an external candidate will more than likely get the market rate). Add up a few of those salary haircuts with each promotion and before you know it, your poor salary could be significantly lower than the going rate for that role (well in the double digits from a percentage stand-point).

Read more

Disconnect – Featured Buzzword

buzzword-template_large_010114

Disconnect

A buzzword referenced when there is not a mutual understanding among at least two parties.

“They sent over the wrong files again…I believe there is a DISCONNECT in our communication of the project requirements.”

Want REAL Office Transparency? Here is an Idea

TalkLikeTheBoss_Transparency

“O Transparency, Transparency, wherefore art thou Transparency?”

Transparency–yet another flavor of the day concept in modern corporate culture that references an inclusive office environment where leaders actively involve their workers in decisions and initiatives that significantly impacts the organization. Almost all of the HR gurus blab on about the importance of transparency and provide a few tactical ideas to help drive openness in a historically extremely departmentalized system–that is, big corporations.

And it seems that most of the largest corporations are getting in on the action by crafting language and imagery to reflect that of an office culture that is inherently team oriented and open to the opinions of others.

Just spend a few minutes perusing their career pages and you may see verbiage that suggests that authentic transparency is as common as staplers and sticky notes. For instance, here is some verbiage I took the liberty to compile; “the best ideas are encouraged and rewarded, we value thought-leadership, open door policy, extremely team-oriented, the opinions of our associates are priority.”

This is the part of the story where I call “BULL” on the bosses for not practicing what they preach. You see, when I interview workers at many of these “transparent” organizations, the feedback I receive is exactly the opposite of a culture that is transparent. Sure, your workers noticed that you paid big bucks to lower the cubicles walls, install LED light fixtures and declutter meeting spaces to make the office look open. But that’s where the notion of transparency stopped–at mere appearances.

Here are just a few actual quotes from workers of these so-called “transparent” organizations:

“My manager recently had a meeting with the VP about my project and didn’t even bother to invite me.”

“So they would rather pay expensive consultants to tell us the stuff we already knew…if they’d just ask for our input, we could have gotten to the same place much quicker and cheaper. Shows what they think of us.”

“Look Steele, they’re having a meeting to discuss the new value proposition and as always, they didn’t include me. But they’ll be asking for my help when it’s time to implement the whole thing. And they wonder why our EOC scores suck…they don’t care about us!”

And there’s much, much, more. So based on countless interviews, surveys and personal observations, it is no stretch for me to say that there is still a very long road to travel in order to get to the place where workers really feel like they are being included in most matters of the business. To that end, REAL transparency doesn’t exist; it is more like “faux-parency” (yes, I made that up).

But the milk already spilled and the tears of a few million workers dried a long time ago–so let’s move onto something more productive shall we…

A’ha a possible (and bold) solution
I’d like to introduce a program to any organization that has the guts to make valiant efforts to move their work environment to a place of genuine transparency. But let me warn you – if you aren’t really serious about cultivating a culture of true transparency in your workplace, simply direct your cursor to the small “X” in the corner of this window and click. This idea may be too bold to stomach for many.

OK, if you are still with me, good–let me tell you about a policy that you heard here first (I admit, it’s a cheap plug). I simply call it, “The Fly On The Wall Policy,” created with the intent to help remove some of the barriers that keep workers in the dark. Quick Disclaimer–this policy is not a magic bullet that will solve all of the problems associated with the lack of transparency in the office environment…it is just one idea that I believe, if implemented correctly, would show workers that your office is serious about cultivating openness.

The “Fly On The Wall” policy:

1. The What: Workers can politely and quietly invite themselves into any* meeting, in progress or forthcoming, via phone or in-person, to listen, observe and take notes (photography is not permitted, sorry folks).
*Alright, so not every meeting can be attended because of course there are a few (and I do mean a few) that involve an individual’s compensation and/or performance. No need to contribute to the current cesspool of office gossip.

2. Claiming “Fly On The Wall” Status: Think of this as a backstage pass where workers will have the opportunity to walk right into the meeting and simply claim the “Fly On The Wall” status which, should not cause any alarm to the original meeting participants.

3. A Few Ground Rules: To keep things civilized, the “Fly On The Wall” worker cannot talk, ask questions, be disruptive, play on their smartphones or do anything an actual fly on a wall could not do (ever seen a fly check email? I didn’t think so). Be a good insect and sit silently.

  • A) The “Fly On The Wall” worker cannot attend a meeting after 15-minutes has transpired (at least be a timely fly).
  • B) The “Fly On The Wall” worker should make a good-faith effort to notify the meeting organizer in advance where possible. However, this should not be a requirement, just a courteous rule of thumb.
  • C) If a meeting is in progress, the “Fly On The Wall” worker should, upon entry, politely show their handy “Fly On The Wall” badge (without saying a word) and sit in the farthest seat away from the meeting participants to avoid being a distraction.

Again, I am not foolish enough to think that this will solve all of the problems associated with the lack of transparency in the work environment. However, we believe that our “Fly On The Wall” policy will help open some of the doors that once kept workers ignorant of the critical initiatives, events and projects happening around them every day. The feedback and data suggests that workers desire to be included in significant business matters. And of course, the corporate world will get closer to the precious transparency that they all claim to cherish. And ultimately part ways with this “faux-parency” crap that exists in most office environments.

Is there one…just one daring organization out there with the courage to step-up and implement a bold initiative like our “Fly On The Wall” policy? All revolutions began with just one.

Come on bosses; aim for transparency…REAL transparency.

-Steele

  • Subscribe_TLTB_112413

Join the TLTB clan and get the good stuff
directly in your inbox

WP-Backgrounds by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann