I worked for many years in corporate communications. The organisation ran on buzzwords. They were amazing ways to get ahead. All you had to do was invoke them and you were in.
When I joined, the buzzword was ‘budgeting’. Everything had to be budgeted, meaning properly planned and costed ahead of time. However, most of the managers took it to mean ‘cut-back’. One outcome was that I ended up sharing a desk phone with the person next to me because it ‘saved money’ (the phone I’d had, which had already been paid for, was taken away).
The following year the buzzword changed to ‘management’. This involved people asserting that they were managing the place. Nothing else changed, although late in the year I noticed trucks driving around Wellington labelled ‘waste management’. Clearly there was so much management about that some of it was being thrown away.
After a while the organisation decided the future was now. They had to shift a paradigm by leveraging best practises and highlighting core competencies. That’s right: everybody was now empowered. What’s more, this empowerment also meant everybody was in a team. This resulted in people nodding sagaciously and telling their manager ‘we’re a team’. Psychologists were brought in to analyse these ‘empowered teams’. Some teams (including the one I was in) turned out to consist of random people thrown together after the last restructuring, with no common purpose. These became ‘groups’, who then had to strive to aspire to work to become – well, you’ve guessed it, teams, complete with slogans comprised of verb sentence fragments, sorry, I mean ‘mission statements’. Nothing else changed, despite relentless management presentations deep-diving into empowerment, in which it was clear that flying geese were better teams than humans. They honked more, anyway.
Some time later the word became ‘engagement’. Employees who weren’t engaged would be asked to leave. It turned out that when staff were asked ‘Are you engaged?’, the correct answer was: ‘Yes, I’m engaged’. Not, as I usually put it: ‘actually, I’ve been happily married for years’.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021