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Management Speak

Compare these comments:

“We are going to stick to our knitting and go for the low hanging fruit. Frankly, its not a level playing field out there, so when we do kick some goals, at the end of the day, our audience ought to compare apples and apples.”

“Our new focus will be to work to our strengths, allowing us to quickly identify and achieve on a primary goal. We all accept that it is a very competitive and fast-moving market, so if we are successful, we hope that our market will compare our superior performance against similar companies, rather than against companies that differ markedly from us.”

The first quote is a mix of recreational activity and fruit, while the second is a potentially potent soporific. They say the same thing, but which is the more effective?

It depends on the audience!

The media and employees may well respond to the first quote, while market analysts and stockbrokers may respond to the second.

So is the use of jargon and clichés at the senior level in business appropriate?

Again, it depends. Analogies and metaphors work well in the commercial world because so much of what occurs in this environment is about persuasion.

Convincing people to your way of thinking is an essential skill in business, and the more senior you become, the more adept you will be at persuading individuals and groups, and vice versa.

Want to move to general management? Unless you possess strong persuasive skills, you are unlikely to make it.

So when does an effective and persuasive conversation or presentation risk being perceived as a meaningless string of clichés?

The definitions of the word ‘cliché’ seem to agree that a phrase becomes a cliché through overuse, resulting in the gradual loss of its original meaning.

Therefore the answer seems to be that the continual creation of new imagery when describing a business offering or solution, whether to a client or an internal project team, is an important function of persuasion.

We have a client whose executives constantly use analogies to present an image to their clients, who are mainly Australian subsidiaries of multinational corporations. This particular company provides professional services.

Amongst the pictures they use to illustrate their service is that their business is like a bus, with comparisons made between the direction of the bus and the direction of their organisation, about having the right people on board who can guide the bus in the right way.

It is a very well-known analogy from business author Jim Collins and his classic management bestseller “Good to Great”.

Is it an effective analogy?

Our client says yes, but because they are dealing with a broadly and well-educated client market themselves, there are limits as to how far the analogy should be taken:

“Collins’ imagery is perfect for quickly setting the scene, but we find it is very important for us to start speaking plain English about issues that are relevant to our client’s situation as quickly as possible, or we risk looking a bit wanky.”

The Australian business community does tend to revile against obvious US-derived business jargon. Nevertheless, much of it seems to have stuck around. Phrases commonly used in this country, such as

· create value

· going or moving forward

· paradigm shift

… along with hundreds of others, are phrases commonly used in general business conversations.

Interestingly, politicians also pick up on the jargon spoken in management circles, with Federal Minister for Sports and Recreation, Kate Ellis, in Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, using the ‘moving forward’ and ‘ going forward’ cliché four times in a single sound bite!

Perhaps the simple ‘… this is what we plan to do’ makes a quick return.

And who could ever forget the Labor Party phrase ‘working families’ from the 2007 Federal Election?

Finally, every profession has its own jargon, with the obvious examples being the IT industry, medicine, of course, sports.

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