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Life without “English” in the corporate world!

english-word-power-corporateFor me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the corporate life has been to observe what new words are in business and how they beautifully pave way for newer words, over time. For simplicity sake let’s call that as “word power”.

The dream merchants from the academia /corporate / economics keep churning and funnelling this “word power” into the business. In general the new word would take shape in one or more of the following combinations:

  • More inclusive or
  • Embellishment to the existing
  • Carries a wider connotation to the what is present
  • Predicates a larger responsibility.  
  • Simply replaces the old one

The irony is that the passion and the energy with which it is injected into the system, is often not met with or executed with similar intensity on a practical level in the corporate play grounds (offices). This sometime causes early death of certain words, but life goes on. Consistency and Change are part of the very much part of the corporate mantra. So these concepts apply to the word power as well, just that the word keeps changing, while the power remains consistent. (At the top!)

Before we hop on with some interesting examples, I feel the growth in business (including new age businesses) and population have also played a key role in addition of more words into our life. After all we will have to create more jobs, leading to higher consumption and economic growth.   

Job title – the proverbial question “what’s in a title?” and if the answer were to be so simple, many of the creative directors in the HR fraternity would be long gone. Starting with the person at the top, in the early days, they used to have “Manager” just one for a company or a unit and not in multitudes as we see today. We could arguably compare the role of the manager to the present day Chief Executive Officers or Chief Operating Officers. Incidentally, I could never understand the exact difference between the two; as I have seen within a same company, these two titles are used interchangeably for the same role, though the size of the business might vary. The purists would then say that COO can be pegged at a notch below, considering it is more skewed towards operations and not strategy. Now, where is the place for strategy without operations and how operations can survive without strategy, is anybody’s guess.

One can see heights of imagination when you come across fancy titles like “Vice President – Sanitation” – basically representing janitorial services or in even simpler terms – his or her job is to clean and keep the area clean, either by himself or with the help of a team!

A discussion on title would be incomplete in my view, if we miss out “General Managers”. One of my old colleagues used to define a GM as someone who “generally” manages without being specific. You got the drift right! Again back in early times and even now in some companies, there used to be only one GM, pretty much the Numero Uno person, but organizational compulsions (growth) has led us to have such “General Managers” one for each function, sometimes. I used to be one not so long back in time! Were I not happy when I got that title?

Similar concepts can be found in HR – Personnel Manager, Head of Human Resources, Chief People Officer etc., more or less the same job, but new names! Finance, not to be left behind has moved from Bookkeeper, Accountant, Finance Manager, Finance Controller and Chief Financial Officer. While titles in HR leadership has been replacing one another over time, finance has allowed multiple words and thereby roles to exist. However, at the core, they are there to protect the interests of the organization, enable its growth even while exercising fiscal prudence.

To round up the discussion on job title, the word power in the context of job title is called by another word “designation inflation”. In my view, retaining the context is very important and must not be allowed to be lost in the fanciness of the title. To substantiate with an example, in the words of a very senior past CEO / Managing Director “job of the CEO is to widen the lead or gap with the competition”. This can be interpreted in very many ways – increase the gap in revenue, profits, organizational culture (better), ability to attract talent (superior), in introducing new products and service offerings (innovative), the list can go on, but the job is just that!

Change and the buzz around – “Change” was, is and continue to be a word of massive importance in the organizational context. In a way this permeates across the organization. At its foundational level, change initiative has to either provide a forward propulsion to the organization or arrest the backward slide that companies might experience at a point in time. That is all what it is about change and what has to deliver. But if we look at the word power around this, back in the early 1990’s an acronym “BPR” was doing the rounds, referring to Business Process Re-engineering. Recent addition to the change lexicon is how to face the challenges posed by the VUCA, though the concept’s origin can be traced to US army 30 years back. VUCA refers to volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Though used mostly in the context of the external environment and not a true blue change initiative (inside an organization), its popularity is growing. Competitive business in a globalized context has always been under the threat of VUCA, a bit of relativity here and there, so what’s new now? If not why would a company like Kodak disappear!

Performance Management or Review Systems and “word power”: The whole concept of performance management starts with the premise that it has a wider context and canvas compared to performance appraisal. (Power of words straight away!) Viewed holistically and bit ruthlessly, it declares lot more losers than winners, quoting organizational limit on resources and growth. With due respects to great leaders from the industry, this annual or periodic event is perhaps one of the most subjective exercises, masquerading as objective, albeit supported by lot of numbers and tools. If one goes back to its early stages, the subjectivity was the cause for cases landing in courts. After all, if the whole process was so objective especially in large organizations, we would not need the help of the words. Hitler’s quote “If you win, you need not have to explain, if you lose you should not be there to explain” just about sums up the need for an explanation.

With due respects, most of the modern performance management systems are more inclusive, assess and include range of factors and are often backed by rating scales, strong foundational concepts or statistical or mathematical models, yet words do have a place and act as a filler, a decisive filler though. You have a range of word power and models starting from Balanced Score Card, Bell Curve, SMART goals, 360* reviews,   

Cut to its brass stacks, performance management system’s role is to make sure that the employee and the company moves forward and more importantly together.

As can be seen from the above examples, at its core, corporate’s purpose or for that matter, the purpose of the jobs, has remained more or less intact, though lot of layers and hues have been added to suit the changing market requirements. This is despite rapid transformation in the business space through technology, new products, innovation etc.

In the process, lot of these “word power” have at best, been a flavour for a season(s), without fundamentally altering the basics of business. If one were to focus on job on hand, which is to satisfy its customers and stay ahead in that game, success would not elude for long. So, these word power become a source of engagement or even entertainment on an intermittent basis, without adding real substance to the organizational cause.  As they say in telecom “more noise; less clarity” Do you agree?