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Cut Down On Corporate Jargon

| Blog | December 16, 2011

Do you have a moving target in your line of sight on your dashboard, that could be a game changer if you can think outside the box and throw a curve when you touch base with your contacts?

Do you have a moving target in your line of sight on your dashboard, that could be a game changer if you can think outside the box and throw a curve when you touch base with your contacts?    Do you need to have a paradigm shift in order to maintain positive momentum in your disruptive market intervention with your client who’s trying to have a breakthrough?  And their business is manufacturing and distributing toilet-seat covers?

If the above statements seem completely opaque to you, that’s okay–because they were written with the intention of sounding like strings of gibberish.  If the meaning of the above statements seems completely straightforward and impactful to you, then you may be on the verge of a corporate jargon overdose.

There is a time and a place for corporate jargon.  Phrases like “low-hanging fruit” and “core values” are in many contexts the most adequate terms to describe abstract concepts.  “Low hanging fruit” is a more elegant and tactful way of describing “things that are easy to do” or “deals that are easy to secure.”  “Core values” is a nicer way of referring to “ethical standards which we will not violate” or “goals for behavior that we will not fail to meet” since the latter–more transparent–ways of describing these abstract boundaries and ambitions make it sound like you are willing to violate other ethical standards, or that there are goals that its okay to not meet.  But there comes a time when you should draw a line.

When you get your first inspired idea to start your own business, you are likely filled with the spirit of entrepreneurship.  Visions of starting a company that will be at once cool and eclectic, while attracting hip, young talent and dominating the business world is your naïve ambition, and maybe for a while, this is exactly what happens.  However, it is inevitable that your workplace will eventually become like so many other workplaces that were also started with similar ideations, and morph into a typical office setting.  This is where corporate jargon comes in.

For those who haven’t worked in the corporate workplace (or who haven’t watched an episode of The Office), office jargon contains those snappy little phrases that are intended to motivate employees.  Some of the most (and eventually least) popular phrases are “outside the box”, “low-hanging fruit”, “synergy”, “loop me in”, “best of breed”, “incentivize”, “mission-critical”, “bring to the table”, “value-add”, and “elevator pitch”.

Not only do these phrases not make any inherent sense, but they are also a sure-fire way to stifle creativity in the workplace, which for most employers is the single most important contribution an employee can make.  By instilling a specific lingo into your office, you are essentially teaching your employees a corporate version of Newspeak, and we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

How can this be avoided?

The best way to avoid falling into the corporate trap is by intentionally instilling a culture in your company that is offbeat and encouraging to all of those wonderfully weird free thinkers that make you stand apart from your competition.  This can be done by studying companies which are known for their culture, such as Google, Hulu, and Groupon.

Take Groupon, for example.  This company is located in the Windy City.  While many residents choose Chicago for its diverse culture and great nightlife, not to mention its relatively low price tag and reasonable standard of living, this company has given its employees another reason to love coming to work everyday.

In addition to regular office events, such as interoffice competitions, this company prides itself on its family atmosphere, and encourages employees to be themselves at all times.  An example of Groupon ingenuity can be found in their tendency to conduct company interviews and then posting these interviews on their blog.  In addition, Groupon treats its employees with respect: “We assume that people are fundamentally good and people are responsible adults,” said Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, “The policies we have reflect those beliefs.”

What are some practical tips?

Below are ten tips for implementing and fostering a vibrant culture that avoids typical corporate pitfalls:

  1. Take your employees seriously, and listen to what they have to say.
  2. Try not to take yourself too seriously!  No one wants to work for a blowhard.
  3. Treat your employees the way you would like to be treated.  This is trite, but true.
  4. Always remember the way that you were prior to starting your company, and try to maintain that sense of fearlessness and creativity.
  5. If you have a dress code in your office, banish it immediately.  This leads to groupthink, which is what you are trying to avoid.
  6. Take the time to learn about your employees—their likes and dislikes, suggestions that they may have for their workplace, etc.—and take that information into account when you make executive decisions.
  7. Keep things as stress-free as you can.  If this means having silly events here and there to lighten the mood, then do it!
  8. Study businesses that have a good culture in place, and don’t be afraid to take some of their ideas and make them your own.
  9. If you see that your company is starting to become humdrum, take immediate action to liven things up.
  10. Set a standard by avoiding corporate jargon, maintaining a positive, encouraging attitude, and being proactive at all times.


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