Category: Terms

IBM: One buzz phrase = 5,000+ layoffs

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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

 

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Three Buzzwords that Offend

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“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

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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.

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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.”

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.”

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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