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New developments in managerese — how to speak like your boss's boss
If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think.
-- GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
All professional groups have a language that is shared amongst
practitioners, and that is more or less impentrable to outsiders.
Managers are no different, and their dialect, which is often
referred to as
'managerese' or 'corporatese', serves the same purpose for their profession
as the jargons of engineering, law, and medicine do for theirs.
Managerese is different from other jargon-rich
dialects, however, in a number of ways.
First, and most striking, is the relative paucity of vocabulary.
Medical jargon recognizes at least 20 ways of saying 'lump'
('growth', 'tumour', 'swelling', 'macule', 'papule'...);
mathematics has about 20 ways of saying 'work out' ('calculate',
'determine', 'prove', 'estimate'...). In managerese, however,
it is quite common to find a 2,000
word document in which 20% of the words are drawn from the same pool
of 20 words. A few words like 'solution', 'focus', 'core', and 'seamless'
may account for most of the content.
The second, related, difference is that
managerese words have very imprecise
meanings, and can easily be used over and over again in slightly
different contexts. Consider how many ways in which the
word 'solution' is used. Now consider, in contrast, the words 'macule' and
'papule' in the jargon of dermatology. Both may just be 'lumps'
to you and me, but there is a world of difference in
diagnosis. In other words, most jargon words are more specific
than their plain English equivalents, but managerese words are
Third, managerese is ideally suited to making unquantifiable
value judgements. This is partly as a result of the imprecision
of the words themselves, but also of the way in which
they are used. If I describe something as 'superior' or
'best-of-breed' I haven't really provided any facts, merely
Therefore, where most jargon is used to
reduce the amount of words required to explain a concept that
is well-understood by practitioners, managerese is well suited
to expanding the number of words required.
This is because many managerese terms are so ill-defined that
their meanings overlap.
It is generally possible to use, say, three words where one
would do, but still give the impression that all three words
are contributing to the sentence. So, for example, it I say that my company is
a 'leader in best-of-breed blended integration solutions for
world-class enterprise infrastructure providers'' there
are probably only two concepts expressed: (i) it makes computer
stuff, and (ii) it does it better than other companies. Each
of the words in the managerese statement contributes a little
bit to the overall picture.
So managerese is not content-free, as cynics claim,
it merely expresses its content
in a holistic way.
The key vocabulary and grammar of managerese has been written about
by many different people over some decades. However, the last
couple of years has seen a whole new set of interestingly bizarre
words and phrases issue forth from the overactive word processors
of the managerial classes. I call this recent idiom 'new managerese'
to distinguish it from the 'old managerese' we have all had time to
This article lists some of these new words and phrases, derived from
a sifting of my in-box
over the last year or so, with
translations into plain English wherever possible. I hope you find it
Please send comments,
criticisms, etc., to me, Kevin Boone (contact details).
All the time. ''After our learning experience on Project Bloater,
we have prioritized the transition to
a 24-7 support infrastructure'' — since Project Bloater
sank like a stone, we must concentrate our efforts on putting in
place computer stuff that will keep on working.
This phrase has a long pedigree; originally it reflected the finding
that across the whole spectrum of human endeavour, 80% of X was
associated with 20% of Y. There is probably some mathematical reason
for this. Thus: We get 80% of the results in 20% of the time, or
80% of the work is done by 20% of the staff, or even ''80% of the
world's wealth is created by 20% of the population''. More recently,
however, the phrase has become used rather laconically way to write off
failures: ''Project Blister has become the latest victim of the 80-20
rule'' - we screwed it up.
Our strategy is aligned across all product groups — we do things
in the same way as the rest of the company. Similar meaning to
engaged, except that 'aligned' gives the impression of
relating to long-term planning, while 'engaged' suggests day-to-day
Bizarre synonym for 'accessible' or, perhaps, 'available'.
''Anticlockwise widgetizers are not an addressable market for us; there
are too many other people playing in the same space'' — we won't be able to trade successfully in this product range because
there's too much competition already.
In new managerese, one should not refer to the company's staff
as employees, but as 'associates'. Associates have a certain
dignity that employees lack. Pay and conditions remain the
same, of course. Also, while employees have rights that
are protected by law, associates only have obligations.
'Bandwidth' is a term from communications theory that even
computer engineers don't usually understand (they think
they do, but they don't, because to do so requires an
understanding of Shannon's law and the geometry of N-dimensional
hyperspheres). So in managerese, as you can imagine, this precise
term has become very vague, and now simply means 'capacity'
We don't have the bandwidth to accomodate your issues — we don't have the time or resources to deal with the problem
We commodify best-of-breed infrastructure installations — we
sell computer stuff that is better than other people's.
The problem with this term, of course, is that no-one is going
to claim to sell 'worst-of-breed' or 'second-best-of-breed' stuff.
We offer a range of blended solutions. — we sell things that are
made up of bits taken from other products.
The term 'bottom line' has been used for many years to mean
final results, or the overall financial position. In
new managerese, the 'bottom line' need not be financial or even
a number, it is just a vague term meaning 'reality'.
''The bottom line is that we must increase market penetration
and re-align salaries'' — put bluntly, our success is
dependent on selling more stuff and paying lower wages.
To 'bring someone along' is to present an unpalatable
proposal in small increments, in the hope that it will
be easier to accept.
We'll get buy-in if we bring the CEO along — we'll convince the board to accept our unpalatable suggestion
if we introduce it to the CEO in pieces small enough that he
won't spit his coffee over the carpet.
bring home this critical project — make a success of this
To 'get buy-in' is to persuade people — usually senior people
but not always — to accept that your idea is a sound one, and
to make a committment to it.
We need to get buy-in on our go to market strategy — we need to persuade people that our way of doing business is
a good one.
''We need an individual contributor with a
can-do attitude towards challenging scenarios'' — we need a grunt who will get on with frustrating and
unpleasant jobs without undue complaint.
change the dynamics
If the word 'change' is not elegant enough, you can say
'tranisition'. If 'transistion' is not emphatic
enough, you can say 'change the dynamics'. ''This development
changes the dynamics of the distribution medium''.
See also change the rules.
In new managerese we say 'challenging' rather than 'difficult' or
'troublesome'. 'Challenging' implies that drive and committment
will reap rewards; 'difficult' implies that the outcome is
out of our control. ''Going forward, we
must change the rules to bring our business to
the next level in these challenging market conditions'' — We must now make dramatic changes to the way we do business
if we are to improve our trading position substantially in
these difficult times''. 'Challenging' can also be
used as a eumphemism for 'frustrating and unpleasant'.
change the rules
A descision or an event that 'changes the rules' is simply
one that has a big impact. ''With the launch of the
mark III thrungelug extractor, we are changing the rules of
the personal thrungebolt space.
Because the plain meaning of the word 'collateral' is not well
known, it has been adapted to fit a number of situations
where no ordinary word was glamous enough. In new managerese it has
acquired an entirely new meaning: a promotional document.
I need a leave-behind piece of collateral for the CEO — I need a promotional document to leave with the CEO when I go to see him.
An organization's 'core competencies' are things that it
thinks it can do better than its competitors.
We must leverage our core competencies — we must do more of what we are good at.
Probably a combination of 'crossroads' and 'intersection',
rather than derived from the mathematical term.
''Our company occupies the cross section between two
dynamic markets: nasal hygiene and laser weapons''.
People in 'customer-facing roles' are those that
interact directly with an organization's customers or clients.
In new managerese, companies don't have customers, they have a customer
base. We must critically engage with our customer base — we must do what our customers want.
''Our state-of-the-art integrated CRM solution will
minimize customer defections'' — our trendy new computer program
will stop customers going to our competitors.
In new managerese, projects are not cancelled or put on hold, they
are 'dialed down'.
Although a key concept in old managerese for some years, the word
'develop' (''we must facilitate the development of our field
contacts'') has largely been superceded in new managerse by evolve.
We facilitate an environment of empowerment — we let you
get on with your job. Empowerment is usually assumed to be a
positive word in new managerese, but a cynical interpretation
is that empowerment means getting to take the blame when
things go wrong.
''We must engage our customer-facing resources with
those of other product groups'' — we must encourage our
staff who deal with customers to duke it out more frequently with
similar staff in
other parts of the organization. Similar meaning to
aligned, except that 'aligned' gives at least the impression of
''We must evolve new methodologies to engage with our
customer base'' — we must develop new ways to co-operate with
our customers. In nature, evolution is now generally believed to operate
without the benefit of an overall guiding principle, so the
term is an apt one.
These are exciting times for the company — you are all going to
be made redundant, except for the handful that will be left to
work 23 hours a day.
''Our focus must be on execution excellence in all our
projects going forward'' — we must focus on making a success of
our most important projects.
Over the years the word 'facilitate' has become popular as a
short-hand way of saying 'make easier' or 'provide help'.
However, in new managerese the meaning has become very broad,
and the word now means 'provide' or 'supply' in a general sense.
We facilitate a quality-led sales outlet — we sell things of
In a naval battle, your flagship is the pride of your navy, the
vessel that will strike fear into the hearts of your enemy. It's usually
bigger, faster, and more heavily armed than your other ships, and where
the top brass will sit sipping their chilled Sancerre at some
respectable distance from the battle. It was only
natural, therefore, that the term 'flagship' be press-ganged into
the service of managerese, to denote an exemplary product. The motor
manufacturer BMW, for example,
used to refer to the K1200 motorcycle as the
'flagship of our motorcycle range',
can assure you from personal experience that it does not float at all
well. The word flagship has been used thus by business for at least fifty
years. However, in new managerese, as is so often the case, the term has
become even more debased, and need not even refer to a tanglible object.
So, for example, recently I have been informed about flagship events,
flagship services, and even flagship meetings. The word 'flagship' now
means nothing more than 'important'.
The meaning of 'focus' in new managerese is not very different from
its day-to-day meaning of 'concentrate', or 'emphasize'.
However, it is used much more in new managerese than in plain English.
We must focus on the voice of the customer —
we must do what the customers like. ''Focus on going
forward to the next level'' — concentrate on
improving our trading position.
Because it has sporting, rather than military,
overtones, 'goal' is perceived as a more positive word than
the old managerse word 'target'.
go to market
A generic term meaning 'do business', or 'work', or 'promote'.
''The CEO will now talk to how we will go to market
this fiscal'' — The CEO will now tell you or plans for the year.
Incredibly, 'go to market' can be used as a noun as will as a verb.
Have we changed our go to market? — are we doing business
In old managerese, 'going forward' could be used in most places where
the phrase 'from now on' would otherwise be appropriate. ''Going
forward, the outloook is positive'' — things will get better from now
on. In new managerese, however, the term has no meaning at all. It's
just a bit of syntactic fluff that goes in a sentence.
Although generally an adjective, in new managerese 'fiscal' is an
abbreviation for 'financial year' or, sometimes, just 'year'.
We've experienced small margins this fiscal — we didn't make
much money this year.
Pass the buck. ''The support department are willing to take ownership of
Project Goitre: can we hand it off?'' — it's the support department's
turn to take the blame for Project Goitre: can you pass me that shovel
so I can load the buck onto the wheelbarrow?
''We need to engage with the market to be
more impactful in the thrungebolt space'' — we need thrungebolt purchasers to notice us before they
notice our competitors.
A grunt. 'Individual contributor' is a new managerese euphemism for
a person with no authority.
A strange back-formation of 'incentive'. To 'incent' is
to offer an incentive or an inducement. A synonym for
incentivise. ''In these exciting times,
we must incent each
individual contributor to take a can-do
attitude'' — we must find a way to encourage our menial
employees to stop moaning and get on with the job, even though
they're likely to be made redundant.
A general term meaning either 'computer stuff' or, perhaps,
''Do we have the infrastructure to support a scalable
24-7 solution?'' — do we have the computer
stuff in place that will support a high level of demand all the time?
In new managerese, a company's 'intellectual property' is simply its
products. Although the term clearly derives from the legal
definition, the meanings aren't quite the same. In its
crudest usage, 'intellectual property' can even be a tangible
bulk product, like a bag of coal. ''The XYZ department offers a
blended consultancy solution
to leverage our existing intellectual property'' — the XYZ department makes things from bits of our other products.
A problem, or something that will turn into a problem soon.
We will implement incentives to retain our key associates — we will pay our most valuable employees more money so they don't
If 'key' is not emphatic enough, you can use prioritized.
Catastrophic failure. ''The implementation of Project Skunk was a
learning experience for the company'' — we bodged it up badly.
A 'leave-behind' is promotional gimmick or glossy document.
The derivation of the word, presumably, is from something
that you leave behind after a promotional visit. The phrase
can be used as a adjective or, amazingly, a noun: ''The marketing
department has issued a stack of new leave-behinds'.
In plain English 'leverage' is a noun, something you have by
default if you have a big enough lever. In old managerese,
it is a verb 'to leverage'. ''We must leverage our existing
solution'' — we must take advantage of what we already have.
In new managerese, it just means 'use'.
Supress enthusiasm. To 'manage expectations', or 'set expectations',
is to warn your customer,
as quietly and subtly
as possible, that the product or service he or she has purchased is
not as sturdy/fast/cost-effective/stylish as might reasonably be assumed.
''There are some issues with the product, so we must
manage the expectations of our customer base'' — the product has some unresolved problems, so we must
prevent the customers becoming two optimistic about it.
''We implement mission-critical solutions that
change the dynamics of the 24-7
infrastructure space'' — We make computer stuff that needs to keep running all the time,
and which would cause frightful inconvenience if it didn't,
and we do it better than other people.
Measurements. We must review our customer satisfaction metrics — we
must change the way we determine what our customers think of us.
'Moving forward' can be used in most places where the phrase
'in the future' would otherwise be appropriate.
Moving forward, the outloook is positive — things will be
better in the future. Very similar meaning to
To express the idea that things will not only improve,
but improve by a very significant amount, you can
say that they will be taken to the next level.
''The rollout of our customer-focused set of
core competencies will take us to
the next level'' — concentrating on things we are better at than
our competitors will be very advantageous to us.
on the same page
''I will communicate our go to market strategy
so that we are all on the same page'' — I will tell you our business
plans so that no-one is in any doubt about what they are.
Euphemism for a problem, usually a severe one with no
obvious solution. ''The company's sub-optimal growth has
given us an opportunity''.
Can be used transitively (Orient Fred to our strategy) or
intransitively (Is he oriented?).
In managerese, this is the preferred past-tense of orientation.
Technically, the verb 'to orient' has only one past perfect
outside the box
''The company employs individual contributors
who can think outside the box'' — the company employs grunts who
have occasional interesting ideas.
To 'take ownership' of something is to assume responsibility
for it. ''We encourage all associates to
take ownership of the strategy'' — we want all employees
to assume some responsibility for the strategy.
The term is also used cynically to mean 'take the blame'.
playing in this space
''We can't go to market with a nasal hygiene
strategy - there's too many people playing in that space
already'' — we can't make nose hair trimmers, as there's too much
competition from other companies.
We will position the product at the low end of the market — we will try to sell the product to people who don't want to
spend much money.
In new managerese, our most important obligations are
not 'high priority', they are 'prioritized'.
Focus on our prioritized customer base — focus on
our most important customers.
In new managerese the word process means much the same as it
does in plain English; the real difference is the
frequency with which it is used. We must focus on process — we must review whether we are doing business in an efficient way.
''We must implement a process to engage
with our customer base'' — we must put in place a scheme for
communicating with our customers. Increasingly, 'process' is used
cynically to mean a bizarre procedure which makes everybody's work
more difficult and confers no benefit. ''Why do I need to draw
my flowcharts in wax crayon? Because we have a process''.
We are ramping for a release next fiscal — we are getting ready for a release next year.
raising the bar
This phrase means 'making things more difficult for
the competition' is a vague sort of way. Presumably it
derives from the sports of high-jump, or pole vaulting, in
which the is raised between rounds, and the less talented
competitors drop out.
We are raising the bar in the thrungebolt game — we are making it more difficult for other thrungebolt
manufacturers to compete with us.
''To remain profitable, we must re-align salaries to the market
average'' — we must ensure that we don't pay better wages than
reduction in force
The polite way of talking about a large scale programme of
redundancies. ''But going forward, we do not expect a reduction in
force in the current fiscal''.
If something has got worse, when it gets better it 'rebounds'.
''If the stock price does not rebound to the anticipated level,
a reduction in force may be eventuated'' — if
the stock price does not return to the expected level, a lot of
you will soon be seeking work elsewhere.
''We will reset industry expectations of how a microprocessor-controlled
fly swatter should perform'' — we will demonstrate that our product
performs better than anyone would previously have thought possible.
'Reset expectations' could be used in the same, vaguely exculpatory
way as set expectations, but in practice seems to be used mostly
in positive messages about the business. See also raising the bar.
Short of money, time, and staff. ''We have challenging goals
in a resource-constrained operational space'' — it will
be difficult to meet our targets when we are so short of
money, time, and staff.
return on investment
I have so far never come across a business communication in which the
'return on investment' could not simply be replaced by 'profit'.
I'm not an economist, of course, and most likely there
is some subtle technical difference. But inasmuch as 'return on
investment' is the amount by which your earnings exceed the amount
you spend, it has to mean more-or-less the same as profit. The
problem, I suppose, is that 'profit' has a rather grubby sound, while
'investment' sounds worthy and upstanding.
Questions that need answers, with the answers unlikely
to be forthcoming. ''How did your interface with VP go? He
asked all the right questions.'' — how did your meeting
with the VP go? He asked a lot of questions that I ought
to have been able to answer, but couldn't.
This term has now replaced the ubiquitous 'downsized' in many
organizations. To 'rif' someone is to deem his post redundant.
From reduction in force.
In general, most organizational changes can be expressed as
'seamless' if they are a success. For example: ''the
transition to a bought service model was seamless''.
See manage expectations.
Euphemism for recession.
''If we can't compensate for the current slowdown by prioritizing
our mission critical projects, we will have
to consider a reduction in force'' — if we can't save
money during this recession by cutting spending on all our
less high-profile activities, some of you will be fired.
In new managerese, you don't need a problem to have a solution. The term
is a generic one meaning 'thingie', and is used where the target is
too vague to allow of a precise word. For example,
We need an infrastructure server solution — we need something that has
a computer in it.
The jargon term 'sound bite', meaning a message condensed into
a snappy phrase, has been widely used for at least thirty years.
Recently, however, press officers in the computing industry have started
using the term 'sound byte' without obvious embarassment. Presumably
it means the same thing.
A general term for a field of operations, or the things in which
we are interested, or our share of the market.
the personal computer space — the market for
See, in particular, playing in this space.
''We need to partner with an company that will create
synergy'' — we need to work with a firm that will
allow our joint efforts to increase productivity for both
of us''. In new managerese this has given us the verb 'to synergize',
which means, essentially, to collaborate.
stick to our knitting
Slang way of saying ''prioritize our
I'll ask Fred to synchronize diaries with Mary — I'll
ask Fred and Mary to meet at a mutually convenient time.
In new managerese, one doesn't talk about something, one 'talks to' it.
The CFO will now talk to the quarterly sales results.
In new managerese, it is conventional to refer to the staff
who report to you as a 'team'. ''Fred's team strategises the
transition to a customer-facing
go to market. The term is also used in a vague,
valedictory way, in internal publicity material — Well done team!
'Transisition' is the preferred new managerese for the plain English
word 'change'. Managers do not change, they transition. The word
can be used as a noun: during this transition, or as a verb
we are transitioning our strategy.
A 'value-add' need not be financial. In new managerese, any benefit
can be a value-add. ''Enhanced responsiveness to the
voice of the customer is a value-add for the company'' — the company will benefit by responding more diligently to
the needs of our customers.
We anticpate significant upside next fiscal — we think things will be better next year.
Value propositions are big business at the moment. Many firms spend a
great deal of time and effort on crafting a suitable value proposition — some statement summarising the company's way of doing
business and which, it hopes, sets it apart from the competition.
Examining the value propositions of real companies is a good
way to mine a rich vein of managese. After all, in a capitalist
society any half-decent business will have a value proposition which reduces
to We make products/services that people want to buy. Since
we can't all have that as a value proposition, we might say
something like ''We make best-in-class blended solutions
which help our customers maximize their return on investment,
or something like that. As well as the value proposition
being a shining example of managese
in use, the term 'value proposition' itself is frequently used in other
managerese statements: ''We are successful because our unique value
proposition resonates with potential customers'' — we are successful
because customers trust us and like the way we do business. The chances
of your customers actually knowing what your corporate value proposition
says are vanishingly small.
voice of the customer
''We need to focus our go to market on the
voice of the customer'' — we need to do business in a
way that our customers will appreciate.