Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's it all about....

For some people Genghis Khan was the earliest example of an extremely competent manager; although it’s doubtful whether he ever wasted time on management speak – for him actions spoke louder than words. Management speak seems to have been gifted to the world by America. Chester Irving Edwards’ 1938 book Functions of the Executive has a lot to answer for. With statements like, “The line of communication should not be interrupted when the organization is functioning,” you could have guessed that it was only going to get worse.

Initially it was those on the cutting edge that talked the talk, soon middle, junior and even non-managers embraced this language as a means of getting ahead. Management speak is very seductive – the bottom line is we’re all trying to leverage our fair share of the intellectual capital. Even politicians, who look increasingly like middle managers in marketing departments, have hi-jacked management speak to ‘present’, or at least try to differentiate, their ever more similar ideas from those of the other parties.

It is now so pervasive that everyone in society at least grasps the basics of the language. It’s no different from the language as a whole; it’s evolving year by year as new words get added to the lexicon almost every week. It would be wonderful to know who dreams some of it up. Who was he first numpty that uttered the immortal phrase, ‘transferable skill set’? Who said ‘impactfulnesss'? and managed to keep a straight face? Who decided it was a good idea to have hymn sheets in the office? But whatever the answer, who needs to walk the walk, when you can talk the talk?

While euphemisms have crept into management speak for just about every kind of business activity, recently one old fashioned piece of straight talk has come back into fashion. ‘You’re fired!’ Still, it’s better than if Genghis Khan had been your manager, in his case it would have been ‘You’re dead!’


  1. This book should be prescribed reading for every management trainee in the country. what a fantastic book. I am now simply going to add the line 'ref: Richard Havers to all my dealings with 'Management' types in the future. Better still, I can think of at least three people who I would like to send a copy for Christmas.

    Absolutely super Richard.

  2. I could send this to many people I have worked with but they will use it as a reference manual !

  3. Richard I love you. I applied for a school teaching job in 1996 which was advertised as "Head of Sector". It got more Orwellian on every millionth page of the job description so I decided to opt for relative sanity and turned it down.