‘Blue-sky’ still appeals

Corporate jargon and management buzzwords are persistent pests. We train around two thousand people a year in business-writing skills. But we’ve yet to meet anyone who likes phrases like ‘paradigm shift’ or ‘blue-sky thinking’.

‘Raising the bar’ and ‘low hanging fruit’ sound more like some kind of tropical limbo challenge than anything to do with the business world. And still the corporate world continues to embrace such phrases.

Nor is the public sector immune: phrases such as ‘step change’ and ‘going forward’ seem as common there as in the commercial world (if not more so).

Maybe it’s a confidence issue. These impressively meaningless words and phrases give people and organisations a misplaced sense of ‘professionalism’ or belonging. Organisations even adopt their own personalised brand of corporate jargon as some kind of employee bonding tool. Unfortunately, it often has the opposite effect when people start to use the jargon to get one over on their bemused colleagues, who lack the courage to ask what these phrases actually mean.

Management consultants may be partly to blame too, especially where they influence language at board level, which then trickles down to managers. One civil service manager we spoke to said that it’s almost a hopeless case in some instances: he couldn’t see his department ever letting go of ‘stakeholder’, for example, even though he believed people used such jargon as a substitute for thinking.

But there is a growing contempt for this kind of language, underlined by a strong suspicion that it is often used to mask inexperience and a lack of expertise. So we’ll continue to campaign for people to turn their backs on corporate buzzwords and replace them with clear, direct and concise language that actually means something.

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