A great man once said “if the business world is a club sandwich, then communication is its mayonnaise”. This is a maxim you can live by, although I wish he’d been clearer about whether bacon represents middle management and if lettuce is human resources.
You can’t always count on the same sandwich being on the menu in the global business environment, but one thing you can be sure of is that the best way to communicate with staff, clients and customers alike is through the new international language of the buzzword. Along with its brothers, the confusing acronym (KYC; TIM WOODS; BDSA) and the meaningless metaphor, the buzzword has exploded out of the box and gone viral on a global scale. It’s a new paradigm for the corporate knowledge base that will soon replace old fashioned-language – that legacy system with its outdated last-gen reliance on concepts like “meaning” and “subtlety.” The buzzword is bleeding-edge, bespoke and best-of-breed – we’re already in linguistic beast mode and that’s before we’re even halfway through the alphabet.
If you’re a change champion with efficiency in your DNA, then I’ve no doubt I’m preaching to the choir. We aren’t just singing from the same hymn sheet, we photocopied the hymn sheet, locked the doors and handed it out at a team meeting before anybody had a chance to get coffee or investigate why the building was on fire. That’s why it breaks my heart when any organisation isn’t on the same page – I care so much I cry myself to sleep when failing to secure buy-in from one-change resistant stakeholder results in a beautiful project being kicked into the long grass. If a passion for communications is your core competency, then you’ll recognise a lot of what I’m saying. If not, why not run a few of these learnings up the flagpole and see which way the wind’s blowing?
Shoot leaves and eat: why the buzzword is above the rules of language
Some people use language as a way of describing ideas, actions and physical objects. This is fine if you’re writing poetry or designing a bridge, but William Shakespeare or Isambard Kingdom Brunel were probably never tasked with lifting morale following an especially tense Q2 compliance audit. Shakespeare wrote most of his plays himself, and therefore had no need to inspire his team to give 110%, 24/7, 365. Also, Excel wasn’t even invented then. No, these guys were strictly focussed on the low-hanging fruit, so they never learned what a game-changer it can be to arbitrarily mis-use words to make a situation sound more complicated or critical than it really is. Suddenly turn a noun into a verb and you’re already thinking outside the box; use five words when one will do and you’ve filled up the empty spaces in somebody’s brain with your total commitment to the vision. Action this, task that, impact those – if you bend the laws of language people will soon understand that you’re like a tiger in the jungle, a shark in the ocean – an apex predator. If you stop moving goalposts you die, and the law of the jungle is up-skill or go hungry.
We aren’t just singing from the same hymn sheet, we photocopied the hymn sheet, locked the doors and handed it out at a team meeting before anybody had a chance to get coffee or investigate why the building was on fire.
Buzzwords add action and excitement to everyday life
Using language to describe things accurately is all well and good, but sometimes you need to motivate people in a way that facts and objectivity just can’t deliver. That’s when a skill-set full of buzzwords and colourful, inappropriate metaphors is your secret weapon. Want more detailed analysis of the figures? Boring! Tell people you want to ‘drill down’ and you make them think those productivity stats are a rich seam of resources hidden deep beneath the earth. Money is always in a pot. Don’t tell people things, cascade them. Don’t give people a reason to do something, incentivise them. Don’t tell them what you want, give them a steer. I promise you, making language sound constantly exciting doesn’t just energise your people going forward, it forces them to internalise your mental language of success. It’s how great organisations become world-class, and also how Charles Manson inspired his followers to kill all those people in the 60s.
Jargon: because everybody likes to think they’re dealing with an expert
I cut my teeth in marketing, and if there’s one thing I understand it’s that making clients think you know what you’re talking about is more important than actual knowledge. People love to feel like another person has everything under control, something understood by all great leaders, like Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and Pol Pot. This is just as important when addressing your staff, as a boss should be like a doctor or scientist in that people will respect you more if they never quite understand exactly what you’re talking about. It’s also far quicker to master the language of corporate doublespeak than it is to become a real expert in anything. You don’t get to the top by being an expert in anything other than getting to the top. I think Bruce Lee said that, although it could just as easily have been Rusty Lee or Dave Lee Travis.
Finding solutions identifies problems
As a corporate consultant, I do a lot of good in the world by helping people perceive problems that without me they never would have realised existed. Sometimes this is inefficiencies in a supply chain, sometimes it’s not enough managers and too many people being paid to work rather than think. Language is important here, because until you have modern-sounding jargon to describe a problem it might as well not exist. Likewise, if you haven’t got the right language to describe the future you want, it might never happen. Very zen. I’ll leave it up to you how to leverage this particular advice, but a wise man once said “death is only in the mind. I call it end-of-play”.
Every sentence must inspire the people around you
If we all had blue-sky thinking in our skill-set then the world would run like clockwork. There would be no silos to break down, and all ducks would already be in a row. It sounds like paradise. Unfortunately we live in the real world, a world where not everybody is a team player. You can either give up, and accept that your total dedication to mission sets you apart from the common man, or you can be an evangelist and try and take the people with you, like Jesus of Nazareth or Tom Cruise.
You just need to understand that every opportunity to communicate is also one to motivate, and that inspirational posters, “thought for the day” emails and daily team pep talks are just one part of a 360 degree, holistic approach to the total inspiration of your co-workers. If you ever see anybody flagging in their commitment, and you’ve already gone down the HR route, chain them up in the basement over the weekend with the annual business plan PowerPoint on loop. By the time you get back online the following Monday, to touch base and give them some quality face-time, they’ll be as happy to see you as a dog you’ve just let out of a hot car. At the end of the day, there’s no I in “freedom”.