Brandt On Leadership -- Jargon Gap

Dec. 21, 2004
Obfuscation initiative to stem damage from competitor's double talk.

Partners and associates of the Bilgewater Consulting Corp., good morning. I've gathered you in our boardroom today on serious business. I have uncovered evidence of a secret initiative undertaken by our biggest competitor -- Beelzebub & Satan LLC -- to bamboozle our clients. They promise, and I quote, "to enter into value-added business process outsourcing engagements through which they will prospectively integrate core competencies with said clients to eliminate supply-chain redundancies, especially those within the professional services market space." In plain English, they propose -- based solely on B&S's ability to craft marketing slogans from randomly arranged new-age mumbo jumbo -- that our clients hire them and fire us. Sadly, this ploy from hell is working, as one client after another succumbs to the idea that if the devilish but well-dressed associates from B&S actually understand the convoluted phrases they intone, then they must be smarter than the clients themselves -- and us. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a jargon gap. While we plan ahead, B&S is proactively goal-oriented. Where we have a private meeting to discuss strategy, they go offline to conduct a visualization workshop. When we help with a layoff, they provide interpersonal counsel regarding the retasking of human assets to leverage change for synergy. And though we might think that we use our experience to help clients eliminate waste through quality measures, B&S deploys proprietary benchmarking data in a phased implementation of modified kaizen principles to achieve black-belt lean status in a six-sigma environment. In short, B&S is cleaning our clock. I wish it ended there, but it doesn't. B&S also has figured out how to use profound-seeming parables as sales tools. Boardrooms full of our clients listen as raptly as boy scouts and girl scouts around a campfire while B&S partners describe how a frog in a pan never feels the heat of slowly warming water until it's too late, and it's already a boiled appetizer. Entire audiences of our clients' middle managers nod like hypnotized cattle at B&S's (stolen) notion that moving your cheese is like adjusting to change. The coup de grce is B&S's tactic of describing the components of a client's strategy -- and, not coincidentally, their work on those components -- as a three-legged stool. Remove any one leg (translation: cancel any part of B&S's consulting engagement), and the stool falls over. It's an evil stratagem, beautiful in its insidious ability to undermine client confidence and to create a corresponding dependency on B&S. I know that many of us are disappointed that our clients -- our friends -- could be snookered in this fashion. I confess that I, too, had thought that more of them could resist B&S's assault on plain talking and, ultimately, on our clients' self-reliance. I was wrong, and now Bilgewater faces a customer defection rate of unprecedented proportions. We must do something. Effective immediately, I am banning the use of plain English in this office and in the presence of clients, whether in their offices or on the golf course or in bed. You may use plain English in your off-hours, but I ask that you be discreet, and speak to be understood only with family members or close friends. We simply cannot afford to have one of our partners or associates overheard using clear, concise expressions of well-considered ideas. I realize this move may seem radical -- or, in our new parlance, a mandate for transformation that may outpace individual velocities of change. Yet I believe that only by abandoning plain English -- or, if you will, by augmenting our latent capabilities for strategic obfuscation and deliverable results evasion -- can we continue to grow and expand the reach of Bilgewater Consulting. Thank you, and good day . . . er, I bid farewell to you in a way meant to exhort you to manage your priorities in a manner that affords you maximum productivity and personal fulfillment. Dismissed! John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, now is editorial director of the Chief Executive Group, publisher of Chief Executive magazine.

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