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Corporate Speak

Yesterday I sat down and started to write out the different job functions I hear about in my company and in others.  We give complicated and impressive sounding titles to people but descriptions often create more confusion than value.  Sure, the titles sound impressive, until someone has to figure out what they actually do. The most commonly coined title includes the word “operations”.  People place that title on a function because it is somewhat ambiguous and makes it easy to make false assumptions about actual deliverables.  Eventually the role has to be defined or it cheats people of distinct goals and confuses those that might expect specific outcomes based upon the title.  Clarity is very important in the business world for efficiency as well as consistency.

Words count.  People need to understand very clearly what a business leader means and expects.  Without this crispness, expectations are misunderstood and not met.  A leader’s primary role is to help understand what the company and the customer’s expect of an organization and to accurately communicate that definition so customers and internal colleagues know what to expect from people. It also provides those in the organization an understanding of what they must accomplish.

I was asked to lead an organization that had a poor reputation and no clear direction.  The first thing that we did was to define our corporate function and the deliverables that define the value of the organization.  We made it very simple, narrowing it down to 4 specific deliverables that were crisply defined.  It was difficult to measure all 4 deliverables but 2 were clear cut and we felt our way through the other 2 until it became more clear.  Once we started to communicate this unambiguous role and supporting deliverables other organizations began to understand the role and it was much easier to communicate what we do and don’t do.  The organization’s reputation improved fairly quickly.

Larger companies are notorious for using, what I refer to as, “grown up” words to label job titles or organizations.  Oh, they sound sophisticated but what do they mean?  “Corporate Quality” exists in most large engineering companies but few companies have a definition for what “quality” is (Robert Pirsig would be shocked!).

I would love to get some examples from you and your company.  What individual or corporate titles have you seen that are either ambiguous or just plain pompous and what were they supposed to do?

6 comments to Corporate Speak

  • Phil

    I’m only half-amused that you picked Animal Farm as the book here. From the Orwell library, 1984 would have been more appropriate, with it’s “Newspeak.” If you can control and corrupt communication, you can maintain more power than you would otherwise deserve or earn. Perhaps Orwell’s non-fiction “Politics and the English Language” would be a better read on this topic, still. The Wikipedia entries on Newspeak and that essay are good remedial reading.

    I have a family member who was in the signal intelligence corps and they said the most effecting battlefield strategy was to strategically corrupt communication rather than to block it completely.

    So really, the vagueness is all about maintaining power, n’est-ce pas?

  • Phil

    I just found the full text of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”


  • Blapp

    I tried to take a different approach with my team to write titles/goals. My individual contributors and managers and myself all get in a room once a year and we review ou goals, deliverables and actions once a year. We then hold a brainstorming session on our weaknesses and what we should do for the upcoming year. A true brainstorm – not this raise a point and debate it for hours then raise a new point. Rather a risk free throw out ideas and try to think of new ones. Last year we came up with 63 ideas in 50 minutes.

    The managers then take this input, find out what applies to the core value of the team, and then generates a Vision, Strategy, and Execution that ties together the corporate goals with the team goals. The individuals feel buy in because they contributed to the plan, corporate loves it because it aligns with their goals. I love it because it makes my job as the guy in the middle much easier :)

    As for titles:
    “Never let your ego get so close to your position that
    when your position goes, your ego goes with it.”

    Too often, change is stifled by people who cling to familiar turfs and job
    descriptions. One reason that even large organizations wither is that
    managers won’t challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things. But
    real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming
    obsolete. The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone
    else does. Effective leaders create a climate where people’s worth is
    determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new
    responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs. The most
    important question in performance evaluation becomes not, “How well
    did you perform your job since the last time we met?” but, “How much
    did you change it?”
    —Colin powell

    For my team, we tried to create new titles to match our new charter. Umm ya – in my company we get about 2 titles to choose from Software Engineer or Software Engineer. And guess what – we don’t write software :) HR came back and told us we could create and use any title we want to put on our business cards and email signatures, we just cant change the HR system.

    So now my team just makes up and uses the titles they want. Some from the past few years:
    – Escalation Engineer
    – Technical Escalation Manager
    – Solution Expert
    – Solution Manager
    – BU Escalation Lead
    – Supreme Wizard of Deployment Success

    Ok… i admit it the last one was mine and didn’t last long… :)

  • Blapp

    Maybe we should create a new title – woul fit with the original post.
    “Escalation Ops Manager”

    Also i just reread y comment. I think there should be an understanding that comments are stream of mind. Grammar and well formed sentences are not required!!!!

  • Devin

    Wow, Blapp even quoted Collin Powell! Awesome. You might want to read “Orbiting the Giant Hairball”. The author worked at Hallmark for 30 years and his last position title was “Creative Paradox”. That might be more useful than some of the titles we use today. How about “Creative Operations Paradox”?

  • Devin

    Haha, I agree with you Blapp, Grammer is optional when we’re moving so fast 😀

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