My daughter has two Masters degrees, with her most recent one being achieved cum laude. Enough said. Parental squabbles persist as to the origins of such smarts. With these qualifications she is well down the pathway to being an academic with I suspect, a PhD more a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.  However, as she has progressed along this pathway the cost has not been mine alone, as in the course of this journey she has had to pay several fines.

Let me explain.

What I have noticed is that over time her language started to change. Slow, almost unnoticeable at first but then the further she progressed, the more frequent and fluid it became. As she became immersed in the jungle of psychology she started to take on terminology that makes little or no sense to the average person. Names, theories and terms tumbled out that impress but really don’t do much in furthering connection and understanding on the part of the listener. I have seen this before – it is the world and language of academia whatever the subject or discipline.

So, I took it on myself to ‘help her’ avoid this ‘gobbledegook’ and rather find authentic ways to connect and speak in ‘normal language’. She might not thank me now for it but I suspect she might do so one day as she inhabits and enjoys acceptance in the everyday world of normality that the rest of us inhabit. I have tried to ensure that she uses the kind of language we can all understand and to which we can relate and respond. I have also tried to instil in her the understanding that the more one knows, the more you realise how little you know. More ‘smart’ people should remember this as being smart should only ever be something recognised by others – not oneself! It is something conferred, not claimed. In that sense it is like humility. But I digress.

There is another world where I hear the language of gobbledegook spoken. It is the world of consultants.

DilbertIt is a language that invades the corporate space and becomes a code all of its own. It pervades all manner of subjects from strategy to leadership; from customer care to business processes. We artificially construct and engineer meaningless missions, visions, talent and leadership programmes as well as strategies using the kind of terminology that is devoid of real meaning. We feel we need consultants to come in and help facilitate and craft such ‘stuff’ because we cannot do it – or we don’t trust ourselves to do it for ourselves. Soon we don’t think we can do without such people and the result is a claustrophobic clutter in our work environments through their nonsensical terminology and metrics. They ‘measure’ our culture and formulate our strategy. They ‘think for us’ rather than help us think for ourselves and then, after all the expense, slogans and interventions they leave. Following which, things invariably slide back into what they were and the consultants are nowhere to be seen. Until that is, they come knocking with yet another ‘intervention’, one that naturally will cost an arm and a leg.

A bit harsh? Maybe, as I too am a consultant.

TomorrowToday is also a ‘consultancy firm’. However, we have always tried to avoid the trap of the consultancy language with which many corporates are so enamoured.  It has been a stance that has cost us from time to time as we refuse to ‘play the game’.  Why, the other day I was even accused of using ‘coachy language’ – whatever that might be? The traditional consultancy language is one designed to help us feel we are ‘doing the right thing’, that we are on the ‘right track’ and that we are getting our value’s worth for the fees charged. If we are honest, the results don’t always reflect as much yet we are reluctant to admit it due to the considerable investment of time, money and effort that has been made.

It is a crazy merry-go-round where everybody is laughing, the music is playing and bystanders look on with admiration. Yet we are merely going around in circles.

My advice?

Stop the merry-go-round.

Use consultants that listen, speak your language and think that you are the smartest person in the room. Don’t relinquish control or responsibility for processes that should always remain your responsibility together with that of your team. Be a bit cynical and use that to navigate through the ambushing that is usually involved in the ‘interventions’. Ask tough questions and be willing to partner the ‘outside’ voice and perspective that I believe can play a vital role within our businesses and organisations.  Forge a trusting relationship in the process and you will extract the optimum value from the process.

Every time your consultant uses language that makes no sense – or even when it forms part of your daily office communications, fine the culprit. Reintroduce fresh. Be normal. Cut the crap.

There I have said it. And by the way, please do fine me should you hear me use such language. You will have to listen hard although slip-ups do occur, as it is difficult to not to get caught up in the nonsense that is gobbledegook. Resist we must and if it has grown like a weed in your organisation –root it out as best you can!

What are some of the terms, phrases or even full sentences that you have encountered when it comes to gobbledegook? It might be fun to share them and by doing so, weed them out.

Picture Source: Dilbert Comic Strip taken from the Internet. A constant source of unending wisdom!

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