The more time I spend in consulting the more obvious it becomes; far from corporate terminology being an enabler of understanding, it is in fact a blockage.
Anyone whose changed job knows that part of the steep learning process is learning the language. This is as much a part of the culture of a business as are the colour of its walls and the myths and legends that it carries. As with many things, the short cut to learning these critical and yet entirely qualitative aspects is not through some magical induction process. Sadly it’s not that simple, primarily because whatever short cut exists, rests with the person joining.
Opening one’s mind to all the messages that are being thrown at you from the first second of the first interview is the challenge, not just because of the listening that’s required but also because making sense of them is not a rational process either. Living with and enjoying the ambiguity of this kind of cultural induction is difficult but important because the famous ‘a ha’ moment that we all want to experience doesn’t always happen.
So, to the riddles of corporate language. Beyond what I’ve described above, which is perfectly normal and acceptable, is self-imposed complexity. What is the source of this? It seems to fall broadly into three categories.
- New disciplines:
Corporate and Social Responsibility encompasses a whole
new range of disciplines for which we need to learn a new vocabulary
(or at least borrow it from other industries)
- New functions:
Risk management also appears to be a new function,
standing separately from internal audit and independent
of the operations of the business with its own language
- New technology:
The increasingly mainstream use of language, which used
to be solely the domain of programmers and IT functions
and is now completely standard terminology beyond
the original area of focus. Who would have used the expression
‘user interface’ 10 years ago?!
And then we have the dreaded influence of consulting speak which I’ve written about before (see this link).
Let me be clear…I have no issue with these new influences. They are, in most cases, important and reflect the complexity of our world.
The key challenge as I see it, is that much of this new language is conceived and used (often as a weapon) by the communicator with little or no regard for the recipient! The consequences seem pretty obvious to me. Remember when you last read an article or a book which had language that baffled you or required you to go to some source of definition or clarification. Did you:
- Complete it?
- Remember much from it?
- Recommend it to someone else?
- None of the above
Successful communication involves two distinct phases: The delivery of a message and a response.