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Business buzzwords can cost companies millions a year

A recent poll finds senior managers on average use corporate buzzwords five times a day. Yet, fewer than 10 percent understand their actual definitions.
by Paula Burkes Modified: December 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: December 22, 2013
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At a former job, Rachel Wright and a co-worker secretly would play a game during staff meetings, where they'd furtively check off “due diligence,” “impactful” and other words their boss frequently used.

After the meeting, they'd laughingly compare notes. Whoever caught the most buzzwords won; loser bought happy hour.

“I was so distracted by the words, I missed the actual message,” Wright said. “And versus looking intelligent, my boss looked like a robot.”

A recent poll of 960 executives by London-based Financial Times Publishing found senior managers on average use corporate buzzwords five times a day, whether in conversations, emails or presentations. Yet, fewer than 10 percent understand their actual definitions.

Terms such as “future-proofing,” “core competency” and “leverage” stumped all but a quarter of respondents. And fewer than half knew the definition of “paradigm shift” or the difference between “strategy,” or the what, and “tactics,” the how.

How many is too many?

Davide Sola and Jerome Couturier, professors at ESCP Europe — the world's oldest business school — conducted the survey to mark the publication of their new business guide, “How to Think Strategically: Your Roadmap to Innovation and Results.”

In a phone interview with The Oklahoman this week, Sola said business buzzwords can cost companies millions a year as stakeholders may misunderstand objectives and take longer to complete projects or tasks.

“The least damaging,” he said, “is not knowing the meaning. Worse is five different definitions, and such misalignment can occur in the same office.”

Among managers surveyed, only 9 percent were able to match a list of 10 buzzwords with their correct meanings. Still, buzzwords are commonly used, according to poll results, “to cement authority,” 53 percent; “look professional or intelligent,” 26 percent; “because colleagues expect it,” 15 percent; or managers simply “felt it was necessary,” 6 percent.

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by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Business buzzwords

10 most used but misunderstood buzzwords:

Core competency

Blue sky thinking

Strategy

Tactics

Engagement

Elevator pitch

Leverage

Future-proof

Return on involvement

Thought leaders

SOURCE: Financial Times Publishing

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