Rob Swystun, Pristine Advisers
I was pleasantly surprised to come across a column by The Telegraph’s Terry Smith complaining about the ridiculousness of corporate speak when it comes to financial analysis.
Of course, corporate speak isn’t limited to financial analysis, it’s rampant in the corporate world (obviously). And it’s always tiring to hear or read. One of the worst places for corporate speak is the ‘About Us’ sections of company websites.
When I visit the ‘About Us’ section of a corporate website, I have one question that I want answered: What does this company do?
Unfortunately, that question rarely gets answered.
For example, can you guess what this company does from this description in their Business Profile?
“Food Safety & Security:
Expertise in food science and microbiology to create solutions that protect and enhance the food and beverage supply chain. Ensure food and beverages are processed, sold and prepared in a safe and efficient environment, extend product shelf life and reduce waste, and provide value added convenience benefits.”
The closest thing this company has to an explanation of what the company actually does in its business profile is: “Ensure food and beverages are processed, sold and prepared in a safe and efficient environment.” How does it ensure this? By magic, apparently. (And what in the heck does “value added convenience benefits” even mean?)
It’s only by clicking around on the “Products and Services” section of the website that you’ll find the answer to the question of what the company actually does pertaining to food safety and security: It manufactures hygienic food containers.
What’s wrong with just saying that? (This particular company does a bunch of other stuff pertaining to food safety and hygiene, too, none of which is outlined in plain English.)
Somewhere along the line, it’s been deemed somehow unprofessional to just state what your company does in plain language. This seems really odd to me, because when I took a business writing course and a corporate communications course in university, I was repeatedly told that in business communications, plain language is preferred and things should be as easy to understand as possible. In a word: succinct.
So … was I lied to? Because the way most businesses communicate is anything but succinct. It’s the equivalent of meeting someone and asking her what she does for a living but instead of hearing “I’m a firefighter,” you hear:
“I leverage flame suppression technology to facilitate the diminishing of the potential for negative outcomes such as being turned into charcoal and smoke on a wide variety of structures and objects due to chemical reactions involving heat, oxygen and fuel sources.”
Businesses sound more and more like politicians everyday, using as many words as possible to say as little as possible. It is never a good idea to sound like a politician (not even for politicians) so your business certainly shouldn’t.
I think I’ve ranted enough about this subject. Here are the words and phrases that Terry is tired of hearing in financial analysis along with some of my own personal pet peeve words that I run into constantly in business communications and some from the many comments Terry’s column received.
Maybe we can start a small revolution in business communications. Let’s call it the “Just Say It! Revolution”.
(Full disclosure: I’m guilty of using some of these but I’m gonna try and stop myself in the future. I hope I can leverage your support to facilitate this key initiative for positive future outcomes something something value added.)
Added bonus – Is there ever a time when a bonus isn’t added? Is that not what makes it a bonus?
Blue sky/ocean opportunity/market – Are you a bird or a fish? No? Don’t use this, then.
Double check – Check will suffice.
Facilitate – Most businesses use this word correctly but they overuse it. Alternatives: aid, ease, expedite, help, promote, simplify, smooth, speed up, make [subject] easier.
Flavor – Sometimes used in place of example or sample. If you’re not talking about tasting something, use a different word.
Footprint – Should only pertain to feet or footwear.
Forward guidance/planning/thinking – As opposed to backward guidance, planning or thinking?
Future expectations – Don’t all expectations pertain to the future?
Global – Few companies — even international ones — are truly global.
Granular/granularity – A great way to describe sand.
Iconic – Few things in the world are truly iconic (or epic). These are not synonyms for good or important.
[noun] Journey (wealth journey, investment journey, retirement journey etc.) – This just sounds silly.
Key – Again, most businesses do tend to use this word properly in its adjective form, but it is overused. Alternatives: basic, chief, crucial, decisive, main, major, fundamental, pivotal, primary, principal, vital, indispensable, leading.
Leverage – The majority of the time this word is used, businesses are just trying to say “use”.
Past history – As opposed to future history?
Push the envelope – There is no envelope.
Steering committee – When is anything steered by a committee? That sounds like a crash waiting to happen.
Stakeholder – Another correctly overused word. There really is no direct synonym for stakeholder except for the type of stakeholder you’re talking about, like investors, managers, employees etc. Not an easy one to avoid but it should be as much as possible.
Select acquisitions – As opposed to indiscriminate acquisitions?
Think outside the box – There is no box, there never has been a box and there never will be a box to think outside of. If you are using this phrase to try and encourage people to come up with original ideas, then you’re as inside the non-existent box as you can get. (And you shouldn’t be put in charge of anything even remotely creative.)
To be honest – Are you usually dishonest?
Value added – This phrase does have its place in business, but companies tend to stick it in communications pieces pretty indiscriminately.
Working smarter – As opposed to working stupider? (Although, once you figure out a better way to do something, how you were doing it prior to that does technically make that working stupider. Still, avoid this one.)
Do you have any examples of egregious corporate or business speak that you’d like to see purged from all business communications? Let me know about it in the comments. Join the Just Say It! Revolution!