26 March 2007

The mystique of Managementspeak

IT ALL BEGAN with Sathya’s e-mail.

“In our company,” Sathya mailed Deb, “when someone seeks a superior’s help with a problem, they call it escalate”.

Sathya’d quoted a sentence:
’In the event the Senior Support Executive is unable to resolve the problem, the issue is escalated to the Support, QA, Product Managers---in that order.’
“It doesn't sound right,” Sathya’d written, “but my manager says the term’s used in our organization.”

“And what did you tell her?” Chhanda asked.

“I told her”, said Deb: “ ‘If your manager sucks his foot into his mouth and insists on keeping it there, don’t suggest he quit eating toes---he'll only victimize you’. . . Spirited little Tamil girl; training to be a technical writer; mails queries now and then.”

“You should’ve told her most Indian males talk patent NONSENSE,” Anjum said. “They rant automatic expressions. In the highly unlikely event you can get ’em to understand it’s rant, they’ll still say ‘But it is used’.

Deb agreed: “I guess his mug-and-vomit education makes the Indian a zombie. He gets no soft skill training in school---speaking or writing. Gets so used NEVER to using his head that he refuses to weigh what he blurts. He utters---or mutters it---only because ‘it’s used’.

“Why ‘Indians’?” Chhanda sounded cross. “Indians don’t have monopoly over inflated language, surely?”

“No,” said Deb. “I guess Yanks take the cake.”

“Hey, let’s not generalise,” said Anjum. “The Yanks’re always for plain language. It’s their politicians and their masters---those who oil America’s war machine---that cook up Pentagon’s doublespeak and Weapons of Mass Obfuscation.”

Deb mused aloud: “And who’s behind American MBAspeak?”

“The latest fad,” snorted Anjum. “On the Net I saw how a corporate training director described his function:
“ ‘My job,’ he said, “ ‘is to ensure proper process deployment activities take place to support process institutionalization and sustainment. Business process management is the core deliverable of my role, which requires that I identify process competency gaps and fill those gaps’.”

“Sounds hideous,” Chhanda wrinkled her little nose. “What’s it mean?”

“ ‘I'm the training director’,” said Anjum. “That’s all.”

“The MBA pestilence has spread, y’know,” Deb said. “It’s screwed sales talk, ad talk too. How about this:
‘Performance metrics consistently indicate an exceptional consumer-measured response to the proliferation of our creative deliverables.’

“Is that meant to mean something?” Chhanda pouted in disgust.

“That’s sales management lingo,” said Deb. “For: 'Sales are up since we started the new ads.' Get it?”

“No, I don’t get it at all,” Chhanda said sharply.

Deb explained with his Virgo clarity: “It’s a jackass’s con game: take a familiar word like product; and stretch it to an abstraction. A product is delivered to the consumer. So the jackass uses deliverable instead. When you don’t understand his rant, the jackass plays egghead, and tells you condescendingly that’s managementspeak. To bray louder than another, each jackass strings abstract nouns to muddle sense: nouns ending with ~ation, ~ment ~sion, ~tion. Some of their staple: utilization, realization, upgradation, implementation, procurement, engagement, incentivize, facilitate, synergistic, and so on. If the jackass is American, he’ll go for noun strings; if an Indian, he’ll go for abstract nouns and participles.

“Many of them’ll go for terms such as competency---in the belief that’s more high-sounding than competence. A favourite among them is the ‘~able’ tag. NGOs did the same with their adjectives: sustainable development, and what have you shit. Maybe we should coin a word for these consters: asscons, perhaps?

Here Kanchan tweaked the focus: “Chhanda, Anjum didn’t say just ‘Indians’; he said ‘Indian males’.”

“Hey, I know where that’ll lead,” said Deb. “Let’s not start a battle of the sexes.”

“You don’t like the truth how males spew crap, eh?” Kanchan jabbed.

“Testosterone at work,” Anjum muttered mysteriously.

That flabbergasted Chhanda: “Is that Anjumspeak? What’s with the male hormone and gobbledygook?”

Kanchan took over: “The male hormone spurs gobbledygook. Testosterone gives the cock its comb, the peacock its strut, and the vainglorious male his blather . . . y’see Chhanda, Anjum got the bull by the horns. Ever heard a woman spew crap? It’s always men. Men never grow up; they only grow senile. The braggart schoolboy becomes the buncombe, the windbag, the loudmouth . . .”

“Whoa!” Deb stopped her. “I knew this’d lead nowhere. Yes, MBAs spew stupid jargon. They’ve spewed so much of it they’ve achieved a communication black-out. Their business letters, brochures and client presentations are polysyllabic hogwash, spattered with abstract-noun strings. Their mountebank instructors stuff trainees with bullshit way too much for the space inside their skulls, and it spills over as blather. But the shit’s in their brains, not between their legs.”

“You scratch only the surface, man,” Anjum cut in. “Dig deeper, and you’ll see a whole culture of fanfaronnade. The Indian male always jettisons meaning and jumps to drivel--- prefers form to substance; mumbo-jumbo to clarity; buzzwords to specifics. Just read our English-language newspaper editorials.

“Dig deeper yet, and you’ll see how chanting meaningless mantra has screwed our culture.

“Spew a fad mantra, and watch it froth. Take driven. The management-wallahs tell us of market forces being impact-driven; tie-ups relationship-driven; business initiatives mission-driven.

“Their pep talk asks salesmen to become target-driven; communicators content-driven; accountants data-driven, women secretaries engagement-driven, and all executives vision-driven. And for variety, values-driven.

“They’ll advise managers to promote data-driven interaction; introduce data-driven metrics, ensure data-driven deliverables.

“And all that mumbo-jumbo, they’ll tell you, will bring about a new data-driven drive in India’s corporate world.”

“Only,” Deb chimed in, “they’ll first need data-driven data.”

“The truth,” said Anjum, getting at Chhanda, “is that Indians are to gobbledygook born, and Indian males are gobbledygook-driven.”

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