Category Archives: Corporate-speak

Weasel Word Wednesday #24 – core

I was a little surprised to see the words “ASIA IS CORE” shouting from the front cover of this month’s MIS* magazine.

Core? Core of what? Core to what? Nope, just core. Could be worse I guess. It could be KEY.

I’m sure it’s a quote from the ANZ bank executive featured on the cover, but that’s no excuse for printing it.

There are some wonderful uses of the word ‘core’, especially in science and nature. Take ‘apple core’, the molten core of the earth and so on. It’s also nice used to mean something central to something else, for example, ‘the core of the problem’.  In the technology sector, there are plenty of terms containing ‘core’ that I figure are mostly acceptable because they’re widely understood industry or technical terms, such as ‘core banking systems’ and computer processor ‘cores’. However, more often it’s unnecessary management speak, and unfortunately it has spread to schools and other public services. Here are some alternatives to common business uses of ‘core’:

Core values = values

Core skills = skills, or perhaps basic skills or essential skills?

Core customers = customers

Core business = our business, what we do.

There’s a fantastic advertisement running on TV in Tasmania at the moment, where one of the family members who runs Wyllie Tiles (perhaps unsurprisingly, they sell tiles) declares that his parents taught him that “tiles are our core business.” Really? It’s good thing airtime is so cheap in Tasmania, it means they can afford to waste it.

* For the non-technology industry folk – MIS or ‘managing information systems’ is a good quality business technology magazine aimed at chief information offices and other senior technology executives. It’s published by Fairfax as part of the Financial Review group of publications.


Weasel Word Wednesday #23 – infographic

I would like to see an infographic charting the exponential rise of the word ‘infographic’.

Information graphics are not new, of course. And yes, they do help to communicate complex information quickly and clearly. But suddenly, every PR, advertising and design agency is touting them as the must-have element in any communication activity (and of course, their expertise in producing them).  Their clients are buying it. Every media release must be accompanied by one. Every second ‘tweet’ (it seems) is about the latest cool infographic. New blogs have sprung up dedicated to shining examples of the art of the infographic. Luckily, to keep us all amused and ‘Friday Funny’ jokes email circulars going, there are also many examples of bad infographics that communicate something other than the intended message. One of my favourites was a sign we saw in Bendigo, Victoria some years ago.

Weasel Word Wednesday #22 – gifted

I have noticed more businesses using ‘to gift’ instead of ‘to give’, and worse, ‘gifted’ instead of ‘given’. It often relates to a donation or gimmicky corporate gift. Nothing in particular to say about this one except: it grates, please stop using it. Unless you are referring to someone with exceptional abilities, that is.

Weasel Word Wednesday #20 – cadence

In a sales meeting a few weeks ago, I heard at least three different presenters use the word ‘cadence’, more than once. My weasel word antennae shot up. From the context, I couldn’t work out what it meant… something about doing something quickly, regularly or in a timely fashion?  Then it came up again in a company meeting yesterday, this time from HR.

A quick look in the Macquarie dictionary tells me:

cadence n. 1. rhythmic flow, as of verses; rhythm. 2. the beat of any rhythmical movement. 3. a fall in the pitch of the voice, as in speaking. 4. the general modulation of the voice. 5.  Music a sequence of notes or chords which indicate the momentary or complete end of a composition, section, phrase, etc.

From that definition, I can’t see any reason for it to be used it a business context, other than to hide the truth, confuse or attempt to impress. A perfect example of a weasel word. Here it is in context in extracts from a white paper written for sales executives:

[X]… should provide focused service delivery against KIs and have a regular communication cadence with the [salesperson]

Follow the cadence as outlined in the [X]  methodology (e.g. review meetings every 3 to 6 months), once the relationship has been established.

Next time I see the folk who used it I will ask them what it means. I’m looking forward to the answers already!

Weasel Word Wednesday #19 – gala

The use of this word isn’t restricted to corporate event types. Charities and not-for-profit clubs are amongst the worst offenders. It first came to my attention (or started to grate) as a member of a car club in NSW, when the club’s president decided that adding the word ‘gala’ to the front of every event made it sound more important. I was reminded of it today in an email I received about a fundraising dinner. And I can only imagine how many Australia Day ‘gala events’ are going on around the country as I type. In many cases, I think it’s used to indicate that the event is black tie or formal – why not say that?

Since the car club gala overload, I’ve heard it used often, for example:

  • gala dinner
  • gala presentation
  • arts gala
  • comedy gala
  • gala ball
  • gala party

In short, I think it’s a word that has lost its impact. Here’s a couple of suggestions:

  1. use it on its own – hold a ‘gala’ meaning festival rather than use gala as an adjective meaning ‘festive’
  2. drop it altogether and come up with a more creative name for your event.

Weasel Word Wednesday #18 – clock speed

I work in the IT industry, so of course I have heard the term clock speed in relation to how fast the processor in a computer goes. Nerdy perhaps, but perfectly acceptable. However, lately I have been hearing it more and more in relation to people, as in:

Jane has a very high clock speed.

What they really mean is that Jane is very productive or a quick worker. I dislike it because it’s another way of referring to people as an inanimate object, a resource or product, like ‘human resources’ and ‘alignment‘.

A bullfighter’s guide to fighting bull

I have finally read  ‘Why business people speak like idiots – A bullfighter’s guide‘, which has been sitting on my shelf for a few months. Crappy presentation clip-art like the bullfighter here is one of the many aspects of poor business communication that the authors are fighting against.

Far from focusing on corporate-speak as I expected, this is a book about action. The authors identify four reasons why business people turn into ‘business idiots’ as they call them. I am not sure that I buy these reasons. But I love their practical examples of how to cut the bull and get real. Tell stories, pick up the phone (don’t email and copy the world), keep a sense of humour, show that you are human, tell the bad news. Recognise that most people are so bored at [insert business meeting here] and your job is to entertain. Otherwise, what is going on inside the heads of your audience is a whole lot more interesting than what you are presenting.

Words and tone do feature prominently of course. And all of us are guilty. It is only through awareness that we can remove the ‘bull’ from business conversations. Here are some I know I have been guilty of saying: touch base, deliverable, deck, thought leadership. Some I hear a lot in my company: reach out, utilise, transformation, align. And I knew I could smell ‘bull’ when people at work started talking about establishing a ‘centre of excellence’. I kept asking what made it different from any other large office, but no-one had an answer for that. This book provides a useful description: “vortex of incomparable splendour, hub of magnificence, apex of awesomeness. No-one likes anyone who works in one of these.” Otherwise: it’s meaningless like so much other corporate bull.

It’s not a terribly funny book. Maybe I’m the wrong nationality for the humour. There are some fantastic Americanisms in there that I would never hear from a non-American, like ‘soup to nuts’. I always wondered what that meant and I’m still not sure. That said, I loved the piece about SGPs (standard generic photographs). You know, the photo library shots your company has on its brochure. Where there is always an appropriate gender and ethnic balance. Anyone over 40 is wearing glasses. And they feature people pointing, waving, looking interested.

As the authors say, go and enjoy a long run of ‘Take Your Personality to Work’ Days. And join the league of bullfighters.