How to get ahead with buzzwords

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

13 thoughts on “How to get ahead with buzzwords

    1. For me the hilarious part was the ’empowerment’ of staff, a word which in the corporate environment clearly meant something other than the usual definition found in the dictionary.


  1. -belly laugh- Matthew Wright! I had no idea you were a comedian. 😀

    I literally laughed all the way through this post. I last worked in corporate in the mid eighties so it’s nice to know that nothing much has changed…except the language. -rolls on floor laughing-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect the corporate environment will never change. Some of the experiences I’ve recounted here date to the early 1990s and the ‘golden age’ of neoliberal disempowerment of their workforce – sorry, ’empowerment’. Not entirely unlike Cheops the Great who ’empowered’ his workforce to haul giant stones. The way English has been co-opted and twisted to mask the actual processes of injustice, disempowerment and cowing remains one of the more frightening displays of human nature I’ve experienced myself. One can but lampoon it…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ‘The way English has been co-opted and twisted to mask the actual processes of injustice,…’

        It started with our acceptance of ‘spin’, and then grew like topsy. As someone who loves words and meaning, I loathe what we’ve allowed to happen to the language. 😦
        That said, you lampoon it so well. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Meeka's Mind and commented:
    Matthew Wright is an historian from New Zealand. He’s also incredibly funny with a biting wit that will make you laugh out loud. If you’ve ever worked in corporate, you will LOVE this post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Working in digital marketing, I’m away ahead of you. “Synergy” and “ideate” are very big at the moment. Ideate I find particularly irritating. I’ll need to ideate on the reasons for why.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Haha! This was also part of my world in education. Meaningless mission statements and buzzwords. Data-driven education, (We love our data😂), growth mindset (we can’t grow unless we say we’re growing in our minds), and lifelong learning (I was only planning to learn the first sixty years!) come to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I recall one time in the corporate environment I was asked to review a mission statement the HR department had come up with for themselves. I read it through and handed it back on the basis that it was a satire. It turned out it wasn’t…


    1. The funny thing is that this entire experience was essentially a litmus test of the Wellington corporate ecosystem and how it operates. And then we wonder why New Zealand is in trouble… sigh…

      Liked by 1 person

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