Please stop telling me about your “business journey”

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The business buzzword list is about 55 miles long by this point (if you’re writing in size-6 font), and we can add a new one: “business journey.” Leaders love to breathlessly talk about how their company is on some business journey. There is a lot of psychology to this, obviously. It tosses it all back to the days of explorers, which seems adventurous and was something we all learned about in school. A journey needs a leader, so saying “business journey” repeatedly underscores their own value. A lot of work is about building up your own relevance in the name of increased self-worth, so “business journey” checks that box as well.

The big issue, of course, is that most companies make a product or service. Essentially, it’s a widget. It might be toilet paper or it might be a machine learning app. I don’t really care if it’s A or B, because it’s usually a thing designed to add a revenue stream. This, in turn, has created a ton of choice overload — we produce shit essentially to make money, whether or not anyone needs it. (“Show me that growth,” an executive meows.) I personally don’t see “the production of potentially unnecessary stuff” as a “business journey,” but I suppose this is one of 92,813 reasons why I don’t run an enterprise company right now.

A leader’s “business journey” is often a slew of incomprehensible buzzwords.

Welcome to Buzzword Boulevard, business journey.

MIT on the business journey

Managers’ vested interest in “journey” reflects conventional wisdom about how to approach or narrate the pursuit of corporate goals. There is a fine line, however, between relying on conventional wisdom to achieve results and relying on hackneyed language to manage your business. The trip between the two sides of this line is short. When conventions shift, familiar and once acceptable ideas can quickly become unacceptable.

The part the quote nails is “conventional wisdom about how to approach or narrate the pursuit of corporate goals.” It’s 2017. We’re going to have cars that drive themselves at scale in less than a decade. Most of the tools we hand managers, though, are from about 1911. Maybe the term “conventional wisdom” needs to take a back seat nowadays, yea?

The priority issue

The priority issue is the single-biggest issue that faces most companies. It seeps into bad decision-making, terrible product roll-outs, stalker-ish marketing, etc. It’s also a major factor in employee turnover. A good business journey narrative could help solve this priority problem at companies.

What happens instead?

“Business journey” is also, oftentimes, a convenient way for managers to establish “sense of urgency” cultures or put employees on PIPs. “You’re not following our business journey,” a middle manager screeches, “so I’m sending you to HR.” In reality, aside from essentially inventing deliverables all day, that manager has no idea what the business journey is either. Don’t believe me? Read this research.

The business journey as storytelling

A word on the role of managerial tricks

I realize we’re racing towards automation, and that’s cool from a cost perspective, but … the human element has been entirely ripped from management in a lot of ways. (It left HR in the last decade too.) As noted in that MIT quote above, “business journey” is another managerial trick. It allows bad managers to frame a narrative around a vague thing and use that narrative to force people into low-value, shallow work. None of us win in that equation.

What else would you add on business journey? Was I too negative here? Are some leaders framing up “business journey” correctly?

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