If you work for an organization of reasonable size you understand what I mean when I say that management often speaks in gobble-de-gook.

This is a language that often turns management initiatives into alphabetical acronyms like ADIM (Advanced Data Information Management) or NGAD (Next Generation automotive Development) and then begins to pronounce them as if they were actual words a-dim and n-gad.

Why does this happen? In part it happens because strategic initiatives like the fictitious ones I created above are often rather complex and multifaceted. It just seems simpler to try to capture a sense of the entire thing in an acronym and assume that everybody on the management team has the same general sense of its meaning.

Also at work is what you might call the copy-cat effect.  Most organizations seem to do it, so we will do it as well.  It becomes simply a matter of how managers communicate with each other by habit.

Consider also the copy-cat effect at work in the common jargon that often populates management speak where simpler words and phrases would suffice.  For example, the use of:

synergy rather than cooperation;.

conflate rather than combine, blend, or bring together;

alignment rather than agreement;

CONOPS rather than this is what this thing is for and how you should use it;

instantiate rather than incorporate, express, or provide a specific example;

touch base rather than talk;

off-line rather than not here;

bandwidth rather than intelligence or smarts;

analytics rather than facts or data;

cascade rather than communicate to others; or

low hanging fruit rather than the easy stuff.

Soon after I finished graduate school, an editor of one of my early written products informed me that I demonstrated a very high FOG index in my writing. Hoping it was an acronym with some positive connotation I asked her to explain.  Unfortunately she said it indicated an excessive use of words that many average folks would not understand.  In hindsight her feedback was a blessing that started me on a quest for simplicity and clarity in my oral and written communication.

OK, why am I making a big deal out of this?  It’s because the people who most need to understand the true meaning of management-speak are the workforce and day-to-day acronyms and jargon are not the way they converse with each other.  Moreover, in many cases communications filled with acronyms and fancy words go right by them,  In plain language, many employees often do not know what the hell management is talking about.

New initiatives, ideas, processes and systems generated by management generally have a positive purpose.  They aim to make work easier, more efficient, more productive and better for the organization as a whole.  But when presented to a workforce, what they most want to know is how it will affect them personally, whether it will change what they do every day and how, and whether they will have any say in the matter.

These communications require plain language so understanding and give and take dialog can occur. A workforce will want to feel they are part of something new, that they understand it in their terms not management speak, and that management is listening to them in their language when it comes to constructive feedback.

So for all these reasons, plain language beats jargon and acronyms hands down.  Perhaps every management team should have a designated FOG index monitor to insure important communications pass the plain language test.

When a workforce fails to understand what they are hearing from management — whether they are simply confused or trying hard to hear what they wish to hear — management communication has failed and the success of any new initiative is at risk.

Categories: Communicating Effectively, Managing & Leading, Managing People

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