Come again?

I recently read the following comment, by the Head of Organizational Development for a very well known company, on a business news website. In order to be polite, I won’t name names.

I think when you read it you are likely to have one of four responses: you may nod your head in passionate agreement, you may feel confused, you may feel slightly queasy, or you may laugh out loud (I read it to a politician I know, and, baffling word-play being his profession’s stock-in-trade, he collapsed in laughter. I was impressed, and might even consider voting for him!).

Here goes:

If this sounds good to you, you won’t enjoy my article: Artificial ‘Intelligence’ (however if you felt nauseous or amused, do have a look!).

What is wrong with this executive’s statement? Here are a few things that occur to me:

  • It sounds meaningful but communicates nothing of substance (in technical terms, it’s BS).
  • If you try and understand it, you will have to fill in all the blanks from your own experience – you have no way of knowing if you see the world the way the writer does, so you can’t really decide whether you agree with it or not. If you were nodding your head as you read it, you were basically being hypnotised.
  • Even if you do manage to fill in the blanks somehow, can you find an argument that really hangs together? Consider: “The key to success, at any level, is to execute against a long-term vision that is built around the customer”. It sounds like the sort of thing it would be mad to disagree with in a meeting, but is it really saying something true? Could it be tested? Does it in any way provide a guide for one to navigate the way to success?
  • Or this one: “By embedding this understanding in the culture, we can continue to develop leaders who are up to the task.” Great – all we have to do is embed the understanding in the culture. But how much further on has that really taken us? (the current term for this type of recommendation is “kicking the can down the road”. A remarkable amount of management advice has the same structure).

My observation is that the best leaders talk plainly. But the kind of language in the quote is ubiquitous in many large organizations in both the private and public sectors. It’s hard to imagine it’s helping. It turns off and alienates those who don’t speak it  i.e. the employees who do the work and customers who might be corresponding about a complaint, for example. And if senior people are used to debating potentially important decisions in such terms, how do they even know what it is they are deciding?

© 2012. Andrew Bass. All Rights Reserved.