Top 10 Corporate Cliches
I have been associated with the corporate world for two years. I would like to say that the journey has been very fulfilling and challenging. Yes, I would have loved to say that and mean it. Except, I can’t and I won’t. But sometimes I feel, people unfairly criticize us corporates (can I call myself that, frankly am not too comfortable, but for the good of humor self deprecation gets a nod) and their better-than-you demeanor. Yes, we have our ways of smugly patronizing the ‘lesser’ people, don’t tell me you haven’t done it. Yes, we have our ways of pretentiously looking at our [insert your Smartphone]’s during grocery shopping. Yes, we have our ways of giving fancy names for pointless meetings. While at it, let me also mention our ways of pulling out that fake accent once in a while. We have our weakness, but we are, in most cases, not evil. All you have to actually do is talk to us for a little while and you’ll realize most of us have no clue what we are talking about. We are trained to be so. No logical questions please, as Dilbert says all such questions will be treated as insubordination. We use the same hackneyed phrases our management uses, we fill our talks with these phrases. Sometimes to confuse the person we are talking to and hide the fact that we are not learnt enough to make a statement and stand by it. Sometimes we use these phrases because they sound very ‘corporatish’ and they make us feel important. Let us examine some of these corporate clichés and maybe ridicule them a little bit.
“Centre of Excellence”
Just like its well known cousin ‘Center of a circle’, Centre of Excellence is a locus of all Excellence equidistant from an Excellence. The phrase itself is ubiquitous, used in every power point presentation, every goal setting meeting and every round robin. it has even made its entry into the world of geometry (Don’t be overwhelmed, the locus definition does exactly this). I have spent a lot of energy trying to understand what the phrase means, you know, its deep meaning in the Paulo Coelho world. After much delving I have come to the following conclusion: All it really means is that there is only one kind of excellence, that is the excellence of your organization. Your excellence? Please do it in your own time.
Imagine you are trying to sell a parrot. Your prospective client sure as hell wants to know why you are charging five dollars for a parrot which for all it grandeur in green is worth two cents. This is where our phrase kicks in and you just reply “The Value Proposition we bring to the table…” and then you go on to present a power point presentation called “Value Proposition” and then you distribute documents called “Value Proposition document” and before you know it, the boss on the client side is charmed and the parrot is bought for six dollars including a one dollar charge for pink beaks. The phrase is usually accompanied by keywords such as ‘ROI’ , ‘Customer experience’ etc but nobody bothers to answer the question in hand “Why five dollars?”
“Innovate/Think Outside The Box”
Some folks realize this very early, some take a few years. You’d probably know this, but I derive a certain pleasure in stating this time and again; What your corporation calls as “Innovation” is most likely not. What we usually see is process streamlining or “cutting the fat” (another phrase which unfortunately did not make this dubious list). Once it sinks in that words like ‘Innovate’ are being used very casually, any attempt by the organization to actually innovate is taken with a huge serving of salt. Its casual usage has rendered it useless not only for the real innovators but also for the corporation which generally does not innovate but out of necessity has had to do so. That is when they come up with phrases which are catchier(‘Think outside the box’-some even call this innovation) and which are not yet on everyone’s lips. The new phrase is doing well until a director while addressing the senior management slips it out. A very productive session! The sheep have been fed and all you can hear for the next few weeks is the new queen in town.
This is the one of those new queens in the corporate town. It was probably picked up from a page 3 elitist and has made its way up in the book of corporate clichés. We all have noticed the “Consider the environment before you print” message under the signature. In all likelihood it was started by a well meaning individual but when used by folks who think greenery is having a nice lawn in front of the house, it does not fit well. Maybe we all need a reminder that talking a walk to the office and packing your lunch from home will go a longer way in doing something for the environment than a customized signature. As I type this in my cubicle and look around, I can’t help but think maybe the environment is not the one which needs a saving. I do realize I am pointing fingers and assuming self-righteousness but tell me you haven’t given a thought yourself.
“Corporate Social Responsibility”
What a PR scam! This is as big a scam as India claiming to be a democracy. As in both cases, the insiders know the truth and we have our jokes on the subjects. Let us examine the scam called CSR. It is when we take a picnic to a lake under the false pretense that we are going to clean it. It is when we go to an orphanage thinking that a few bucks donated will solve the problem. It is when we take photographs of all things dismal and post it on our facebook wall. It is when we arrange cabs and lunch for huge groups of people only to go to a remote location and plant a few saplings. Some corporations even have a CSR team! The whole thing stinks of hypocrisy.
Yes, the people are the first priority. Who am I to disagree, all the big corporations were built on this solid foundation. Business and profits, aah.. that comes a far second. They even have human resources department, to address all concerns and issues the ‘people’ may face. Anna Hazare will be so proud of our corporate structure. I am wondering if somebody has compiled a list of contributions of the Human resources department in an organization, their ‘value proposition’ I mean. That would be interesting. I am not insisting they serve no purpose, it is quite important to keep the bosses happy. Ever been to the HR with a small/big concern? This is what will happen and take notes- they will humor you for a while and maybe share a cup of coffee, but, attention, they share no empathy for your predicament and all the while will exhibit a duplicitous friendliness (which has to be swatted like an annoying house fly). Personal experiences must not define our outlook but I’ll make an exception this time.
This is a classic corporate cliché. I actually use the phrase very frequently, makes me sound result-oriented. Those who know better will disagree. The term itself means enough to be useful while also being suitably vague. Ha, suitably vague is a must in this world. You cannot afford to make a point, never. My guess it was designed by a smart accountant to include in the annual reports thereby making them open to interpretations. That way, no one can ascertain what is being said. Slowly it made its way to boardroom meetings, then to our daily cubicle platter. Just the perfect little expression. Going forward, I owe to try and make a bit more sense.
“If I could just piggyback on that comment”
You are in a meeting with a lot of hi-fi people and somebody makes a very discernible statement (shocker). While most in the room, knowing they cannot match it, choose to keep quiet, you hear someone say “If I could just piggyback on that comment ..” before going on to make a statement which was implied and well understood (for the few discernible people in the room) without the need of being explicitly stated. Tactical genius, I happen to think. The individual shows that he/she has understood the original statement and the subtle nuances it assumes while also giving his/her thoughts. A few meetings later it is all too obvious and the ball keeps rolling. After all everyone does it in one meeting or the other.
“We are not on the same Page”
It could mean any of these; I disagree, I have a different opinion, I do not understand it as well as you do, You do not understand it as well as I do, You have the got context wrong , Let me get the context right and so many things more. Instead of using the expression best suiting the circumstance, we choose to throw out “we are not on the same page”. Yes, it means all of this at the same time and sometimes you wonder what the apt reply is. Should you even reply? Or just say “what?” But like most corporate clichés this is very well designed and serves the purpose of confusing the hell out the audience. The smug look on the face after delivering the phrase is such a wonderful sight for anyone who sees through the mighty bluff.
This one I am sure everyone has heard. This is where Warren Buffet meets Dalai Lama. What in good god’s name does this mean? Why would anyone want a work-life balance? I want a life, I d rather not work, it is that simple. I do realize there a folks who love their work, in that case, their work is their life and I am no one to judge. To the corporations I ask, If you really want us to have a work-life balance why provide these PDA’s and laptops and on-call duty /weekend options? We know it definitely is not for our convenience. I cannot articulate well enough how I feel about this favored-by-all corporate cliché and if anybody has satirical references you would be doing the world a whole good if you can share them in the comments section.