Issue 144
December 18, 2022
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Tired of hearing pseudo-intellectual business verbiage? Annoyed by the ever-increasing number of hip buzzwords concocted by management gurus to help - drumroll please – “streamline your business processes”? Indeed, some of the vernacular borders on the absurd. Other catchphrases do little but provide answers to everything but solutions to nothing.

At TQC, we are often left scratching our heads asking, “what does this word or phrase even mean?” To that end, we have compiled a list of ten overused business buzzwords that are seeping into everyday general usage, especially in (gasp) politics.

Word Salad

• Synergistic Benefits: A “tried and true” (another annoying phrase) favorite. It is often used in conjunction with business mergers and acquisitions (M&A) whereby the acquiring firm touts the benefits of the combined entity. Usually, however, these synergistic benefits fail to materialize. Empirical data clearly demonstrates that most mergers, especially those involving public entities, destroy rather than enhance, shareholder value. Expect the M&A machine to continue. Acquisitive CEOs are not inducted into the CEO hall of fame by not consummating deals.

• Value Added: This is one of the more irritating terms on our list. It is grossly generic, overused, and is incorporated into management vernacular when something measurable to quantify exactly what value is being added, typically does not exist.

• Not acceptable or will not be tolerated: The idea of something being “not acceptable” is reasonable. Our main gripe with these terms is that while many managers and politicians are quick to utter them, they almost never offer any substantive solutions to what is “not acceptable” and “will not be tolerated.” The result is the same snafus get repeated over and again.

• 30,000-foot view: This term is often associated with a broad review of an organization’s business processes. While taking general stock of an organization can be useful, if one utilizes a top-down approach without encompassing granular analysis of key touchpoints, they are liable to miss important details. In a competitive industry, details are often the difference between success and failure.

• Pivot: The phrase “pivot” is often helpful in business or when running a political campaign when the current directive is proving ineffective. That logic does not resonate with us. Of course, if something is not working, it might very well behoove a manager or politician to change. That said, it is easier to change if part of you isn’t tethered (pivot) to what did not work.

• Strategic Initiative: This is one we stumbled upon that made us giggle; it seems redundant. Why would anybody take any initiative if it were not strategic? Furthermore, after reading this phrase numerous times in the context of taking “strategic initiative,” we have yet to find substantive detail about what that would constitute.

• Disruption: Do not panic. Whenever a new way of conducting business is invented – the internet for business-to-consumer transactions is a classic example – consultants are quick to predict the demise or “disruption” of traditional business models. While some businesses are truly disrupted and become obsolete – like the horse and buggy for private transportation – many modernize, innovate, and successfully coexist with new competition. For instance, brick-and-mortar retailers were certainly affected by the internet. Firms that failed to adapt, like Circuit City, went bankrupt. Others that leveraged their core competencies, like Best Buy, flourished.

• New Normal: A founding father of business catchphrases. Whenever we come across it, we cannot help but think of Bob Farrell, the legendary stock market strategist who spent 45 years at Merrill Lynch (now Bank of America). Mr. Farrell is best known for his Ten Market Rules to Remember. (Click on the link, it is worth having a look at them.) Rule number two is “excesses in one direction will lead to an opposite excess in the other direction.” To his point, changes in the market are typically cyclical and cyclical movements eventually mean revert (to the old normal). Permanent shifts that catalyze a “new normal” can and do occur when there is a true secular (as opposed to cyclical) change. Those are rare, so the phrase “new normal” should be used more judiciously.

• This Time Is Different: A close cousin to “new normal.” When pundits habitually utter the phrase “this time is different,” it’s often a signal that we are at, or near, an inflection point where things begin to revert to “normal.”

• At the end of the day: This buzzword should be changed to “during the day.” Reason being, in business the fundamental underpinning of the respective industry trumps all other factors at the end of the day. However, in business, it often takes a long time to get to the end of the day. In what manner a business navigates and reacts to the market, between the beginning and end of the day, often matters most.

A commonality between these catchphrases is that they sound professional and effective but, in reality, are overly general, vague, and fuzzy. In our view, to effectuate meaningful change, it is better to rid ourselves of the unnecessary jargon that is increasingly finding its way into daily conversation. Instead, simplify and be direct; focus on identifying an organization’s core challenges and then specify how to remedy them.