Corporate vocabulary sucks

Take a look at this headline from Harvard Business Review recently:

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Seems like a potentially salacious headline about “Oh man, executives and employees are not on the same page.” (Hopefully we all knew that part already.)

In reality, it’s a much simpler — but equally flummoxing — concept.

Corporate vocabulary issues

Everyone speaks in what’s close to them, what matters to them, and what they understand.

For the top dogs, that is financial terms and acronyms. In other words, stuff that can be on a spreadsheet.

The middle ranks talks in acronyms too, but their focus is on getting stuff done, checking boxes, making trains run.

The lower ranks just want to know what they are supposed to work on all day instead of surfing Instagram.

Where “curiosity” fits in

To the best of my knowledge, you cannot place “curiosity” on a balance sheet. As a result, the top levels of an organization (the executives) have two problems:

  • They don’t care

Don’t believe me? Look at this pull quote:

83% of C-level or president-level executives say curiosity is encouraged “a great deal” or “a good amount” at their company. Just 52% of individual contributors say the same. This gap seems to be driven in part by perceptions of the value of curiosity.

There’s the essential issue.

What’s that essential issue?

You know what “curious” means to an executive?

“This person makes money.”

That’s all it means.

That’s all “innovative” means, or “productive,” or “purposeful,” or “passionate,” or whatever.

They are all suitcase words.

For the executive level, the suitcase has one handle: “Is this thing making money?”

That’s why 82 percent or whatever of executives think they reward curious people. They actually reward sales guys who follow a 1991 script that somehow still works because despite all the bullshit we throw at the wall about digital and collaborative tools, none of that stuff is truly at scale yet. Guys are still buying steaks and taking prospects to golf and that’s still working, even if we want to talk about our squeeze pages and webinar lead generation plays. The executives are rewarding those steak-buying guys, and they’re claiming they’re “curious.” In reality those guys barely ask their wives how their day was, but we get lost in buzzwords a lot.

Vocabulary is usually an issue at work

You have to frame things in terms that the true decision-makers understand. This lack of connected vocabulary hurts ideas like holacracy, and it hurts ideas like recruitment and talent acquisition.

Execs see words and acronyms and phrases they’re not comfortable with, and what do they do? They want to be surrounded again by things and concepts they are comfortable with, so they go huddle at their own levels and ignore everyone else while discussing financials.

Not necessarily the best way to run a business but hey, the financials are there and it’s vocabulary we understand and that’s all well and good. Right?

Whenever you have a work issue think about the vocabulary involved. Who is saying what, and what are the top dogs hearing? What do they understand? How do they want it framed?

That’s usually the root of multiple misunderstandings in any office, whether it be about “curiosity” or something else.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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