Three Buzzwords that spell DOOM

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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.

Jack be Nimble

“Jack be nimble; Jack be quick…Jack got laid-off because revenue shrunk.” I guess Jack wasn’t quick enough.” Cool remix or nah?

So it seems that the new fad in the corporate world is to be nimble, and lean and all that jazz. Well all of that sounds fine and dandy but what many workers fail to realize is that this recent fixation on “cutting off the fat” often leads to misguided crusades to reduce cost—by almost any means necessary. And leave it to a hungry pack of process-improvement zealots, with wet ink dripping off of their newly minted MBA and Six-sigma certificates in-hand, to lead the race towards the most rudimentary of all available cost reduction options—that is, shrinking the workforce by way of layoffs.

Now to be fair, the business landscape is as dynamic as it has ever been and the realities of yesteryear are no longer holding true. Therefore, many companies are forced to take a hard look at whether their long-term strategy, organizational structure and metrics (or KPIs—yuck, I actually said that) lead to viability in today’s marketplace. And if the answer is “no,” then difficult decisions must be made to keep the doors open.

But that’s not the scenario I’m talking about.

I’m talking about this new, disturbing practice of aggressive cost-cutting that often involves massive layoffs (thus increasing profitability) with the sole intent of artificially meeting or exceeding Wall Street’s short-term projections.

NOT COOL!

So if you’re headed back to your seat after fixing your morning cup of Joe and all of sudden you hear someone talking about the company wanting to become Nimble–do not suddenly give your fellow neighbors a Blonde Roast mouth spray. Nope, just finish out the day like your normally would. But when you go home, get plugging away on LinkedIn.

But don’t delay because Jack be nimble; Jack be quick…

- Steele

 

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

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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).
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When Opportunity Knocks, You Better Run! – Buzzword Alert

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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.

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Transformational Change – Featured Buzzword

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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

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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?

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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).

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Disconnect – Featured Buzzword

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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

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“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

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Pivot – Featured Buzzword

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Pivot

To change from the original direction or idea.

“OK, it’s time to PIVOT now that we’ve explored all of the possibilities around the direct mail marketing campaign.”

New Buzzwords Additions – 01/27/14

Check out these new additions to the corporate buzzword glossary!

Buzzword-Alert

1. Ask (the Ask) – a term used to refer to the details of a request.

 “I know we’ve begun to execute against the project goals but we need to keep THE ASK in mind to ensure we are addressing that.”

2. Care for (Cared for) – to address or accomplish a predefined initiative or objective.

“Have we CARED FOR Doug’s updated project requirements or is that still outstanding?”

3. Four-blocker – usually a one-page summary document that is sectioned off to create four quadrants. Four-blockers are commonly used to provide a high-level summary addressed in four different aspects.

“We created a FOUR-BLOCKER that outlines all of the work we’ve done to date. The customers’ responses are in the upper-left portion of the document.”

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