Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Consulting language…who comes up with these expressions!

Many years ago when I first started consulting, my wife said to me, “make sure you continue to speak English, if its your single contribution to your profession that you do this, it will have been a career worth having!” It’s an extraordinary thing that we seem to delight in, coming up with language which is so nebulous as if the sole purpose is to confuse rather than clarify! Maybe there is an element of self justification involved as exists in most professions where to qualify as a true member, one must speak the language.

Lets take a few examples, personal favourites if you like which make my skin crawl when I hear them!

Value proposition: How many hours have I spent in rooms with learned colleagues who are earnestly engaged in the idea of identifying or articulating the value proposition that we have to provide? How often has the expression been used by some of my senior colleagues to obfuscate, cause confusion and perhaps show how clever they are? The thing that drives me to distraction is that in the majority of cases the discussion takes place in the absence of a client!

Brainstorm or its hopefully tongue in cheek derivation, thought shower: Beyond the ludicrous attempt at a biological analogy, why on earth would you need to create an expression for something which is the only meaningful currency that a consultant has….if we are not always thinking about new and innovative ways to help our clients, what are we doing?

Change management: Now I realise that this is very much part of the accepted offering which consultants including myself bring to the market. However, what never ceases to amaze me is the complete lack of clarity as to what it actually means….resulting in pages and pages of more clarification! Surely this in itself demonstrates that the term has failed. It’s bedfellow follows!

Business process reengineering: Whole consulting businesses have been created, made money and disappeared around this single concept. Again the attempt at some kind of tortuous analogy by bringing in the concept of ‘engineering’ seems to add some mysterious weight to the activity.

Having spent a few months now attempting to write in reasonably plain English, I recognise that it’s not easy and is a continuing struggle for all of us. However, what seems to me to be particularly unacceptable is that we use language to gain commercial advantage…the consulting equivalent of let me punch you in the arm and tell you where it hurts. Follow that path to oblivion!

Categories: Business process reengineering, Change management, Consulting, Language

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5 replies

  1. Music to my ears, Ben. These are all loathsome and meaningless expressions. I prefer sh*tshower to the thought variety; at least you would be in no doubt as to what you are standing under and know from the off that it’s going to be unpleasant and that you should run for the exit. Sadly, value proposition comes up quite a lot in the American end of my organisation.

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    • Interestingly thought shower seems to have disappeared as fast as it came on the scene, probably for the association with your version! Any others you’re hearing at the moment?

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      • Ben,

        Slightly different issue but here are two modern phrases that have crept into miserable use:

        A. Air crew announcement: “as the captain has just said, we are about to land into Heathrow airport”. Into? A re-run of 9/11? Whatever was wrong with the perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct “landing at”? This pitiful phrase is now being used by crews of train operators, so that “our next station stop is Paddington” (what on earth is a station stop as distinct from a stop) and then “we are about to arrive into Paddington station”. Here I have some sympathy as that is what trains do, I suppose, but “at” seems to me to continue to be perfectly serviceable.

        The office one that is doing the rounds is the word “around”. Apparently we are now making decisions around things and having debates around things, as opposed to about or on them.

        Must just be getting old….

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      • Agreed…to the injudicious use of unnecessary additional and meaningless words which serve only to complicate as opposed to clarify…and also that you’re getting old!!

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