It’s time to ditch the management speak

10 Oct
October 10, 2013

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph,  office workers are becoming increasingly irritated by ‘management speak’.

Phrases such as “Thinking outside the box” and “going forward” are some of the most hated management phrases, a survey has found, and The Plain English Campaign say that office jargon is damaging business and isolating new workers.


Jargon and management speak is used in two thirds of offices across Britain, but nearly a quarter of workers consider it to be a “pointless irritation”.

More than just an annoyance, the overused phrases can hold back business and leave workers feeling isolated, a campaign group has claimed.

“Thinking outside the box” – meaning to look at things differently – was voted the most annoying overused term, followed by the phrase “going forward” – meaning in the future – and “let’s touch base” – used when the person wants to call, email or meet to discuss an issue.

But it’s not just the irritable language that’s a problem – it’s the fact that we don’t understand it, that management speak and buzz words are used to disguise a lack of knowledge – or worse still, stupidity.  But we let it happen.  We all do.  We easily join in, thinking that we’ll be ‘one of the gang’ if we use the right terminology.  We accept it in our businesses and in the way we talk with our customers and in the manner we advertise.  But perhaps now – more than ever before – it’s time to stop.

Although it’s old research, according to Jeanniey Mullen ClickZ (2005) – 60 percent of people who read an email only see or read 50 percent of the message.  That’s a really compelling reason for making your communication as clear and simple as possible.

Continuing the theme of simplicity, let’s take a page out of Jack Welch’s book – the former CEO of GE – who was passionate about simplicity.  Jack talked about simplicity on three levels:

  1. Simplicity is practically an art form with many definitions. To an engineer, it’s clean functional designs with fewer parts. It means judging a process not by how sophisticated it is, but how understandable it is to those who must make it work.
  2. In marketing it means clear messages and clean proposals to consumers and industrial customers.
  3. And, most importantly, on an individual, interpersonal level it takes the form of plain-speaking, directness – honesty.

Jack continued:

  • Simplicity is indispensable to a business leader’s most important function: creating and projecting a clear vision.
  • Simple messages travel faster.
  • Simple designs reach the market faster

You can read an interview with Jack here.  Jack summed up the need for simplicity and plain speaking when he said:  “Insecure managers create complexity. Frightened, nervous managers use thick convoluted planning books and busy slides filled with everything they’ve known since childhood……. They worry that if they’re simple, people will think they’re simple minded. In reality, of course, it’s just the reverse. Clear, tough minded people are the most simple.”

In one of my favourite quotes of all, Albert Einstein also said:  “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”

And if you think that we can’t understand anything without the ‘management speak’ then try reading the following paragraph:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a ttoal mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.


We don’t need management speak or office jargon – we need simplicity.  Simplicity helps all of us all the time.  Simplicity is inclusive, it demonstrates knowledge and it is less likely to result in mistakes.  We have decided to become increasingly reliant on ‘posh words’ to support us. No more. Let’s throw them away and get back to good, plain and understandable communication.

Call to action

Take a long hard look at the last three major emails, reports or presentations you wrote and consider how much simpler they could be made.

And finally . . . . 

Here’s some more examples that I’ve collected over the years – all real – that demonstrate just how stupid we can all be, and how, if we put our minds to it, we can produce communication that is clear and effective starting with the the 50 worst examples of office jargon.

Not so plain English

‘Where the policy is divided into a number of distinct arrangements (‘Arrangements’) where benefits are capable of being taken from one Arrangement or group of Arrangements separately from other Arrangements, then this policy amendment will not apply to any Arrangements in respect of which the relevant policy proceeds have already been applied to provide benefits. The policy amendment will apply to all other Arrangements under the policy.’

(policy amendment, Norwich Union)


‘Take off lid and push up bottom.’

(from a stick deodorant label)


‘Skelta Workflow.NET 2004 was conceptualized to address a glaring lacuna in the development space of the workflow software applications segment. The absence of easy-to-integrate workflow-specific embeddable tools available to a developer in order to workflow-enable applications / products.’

(from Skelta’s company website)


‘Successful retailers will embrace new communication and marketing models to respond to market segment preferences and ensure in-store customer experiences provide a differentiated value proposition relative to alternative emerging retail channels.’

(Rodney Baurycza, marketing director of Telstra)


‘Driving effectiveness, efficiency and global leverage through the Industrialization of our delivery capability, leveraging our global staff capability, people, tools and methods in a highly leveraged way.’

(Cap Gemini consulting)


‘This symposium aims to provide ethnographic and anthropological substance to the political philosophy of publicization. We hope to elucidate the ethnographic forms that the new public forums (Helga Nowotny et. al. call them agora) are taking in our anthropological contemporary. Society’s political reinvention in an array of public objects is modelled on, and casting off, new claimants and claims over the ‘social contract’: ethics, governance, trust, information, knowledge, are but some of the categories of association that are being re-deployed in the claim to make society more robust. Our aim in this symposium, then, is to investigate some of the forms that ‘society’ is taking today in its redistribution as public knowledge, illustrating with concrete examples the institutional and social journeys of knowledge in its promotion to ‘public’ status.’

(from Manchester University)


‘Incident and Injury-Free is a commitment both personal and organisational, to create an existence absent of incident and injury. Incident and injury-free is not goal, or a result, or a trophy to seek and acquire. It is, however, a mindset intolerant of any level, frequency, or severity of incident or injury. With they do not want, and learn how to generate what they do want.’

(‘The Keltbray view an incident and injury-free environment’, Keltbray)


The Additionality Guide explains how to assess the additional impact or additionality of a regeneration project. Additionality is the extent to which something happens as a result of an intervention that would not have occurred in the absence of the intervention. The assessment of additionality is an important element in maximising the impact and value for money of a project and ensuring that it delivers real results.

(From English Partnerships)


‘We are leveraging our messaging leadership to ensure a commercially viable transition path to a high volume, robust and innovative IMS messaging architecture.’



Some great examples of before and after


High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.


Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.



If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.


If you have any questions, please phone.



It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.


Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.



Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.


Thank you for your letter asking for permission to put up posters in the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won’t offend anyone.



We have invested heavily in the development of versatile solution platforms that enable us to tailor our solution to fit your specific needs. Using these tools our relationship management teams work with you to understand your individual requirements, using their expertise and insight to develop an energy purchasing solution that fits you like a glove.

The breadth and flexibility of our solution is unparalleled in the industry. Fixed or flexible,

short-term or long-term, standard or bespoke, whatever your business demands we will

work with you to develop a solution for you.


We want to make sure you get exactly the right service from us. First, we get a full understanding of your precise needs.  Then we create an energy package that’s just right for you.


You said what?!

Luton Education Authority, as reported in the Daily Telegraph on 9 March:

‘Excluded kids were being given go-karting lessons. The authority claimed the scheme was ‘a multi-agency project catering for holistic diversionary provision to young people for positive action linked to the community safety strategy and the pupil referral unit’.’


A leaflet (‘Regional Strategy for the South West of England 2000 to 2010’) from the South West of England Regional Development Agency: ‘Unlocking the Regional Strategy’

‘Aligning the Drivers, Values and Principles with the Objectives is the key to unlocking the strategy. When they are fully aligned, they will illuminate the actions that need to be taken in the region.’


Department of Trade and Industry for their draft regulations on Prams and Pushchairs:

‘A pram is defined as ‘a wheeled vehicle designed for the transport in a seated or semi-recumbent position of one or two babies or infants who are placed inside a body of boat- or box-like shape, but does not include any carry cot or transporter therefore.’


Wareham Associates for a leaflet describing a one day seminar:

‘Delegates will not only be shown how to ‘Develop and lead a superior, synergistic enterprise to the new millennium’ but will also be introduced to ‘Elevation: the art, science and strategy of the radical profit leap’ and ‘’Shoddipush’: the deadly syndrome that white-ants most businesses’.’


Job titles are not immune either!

  • Space consultant (estate agent)
  • Ambient replenishment controllers (shelf stackers)
  • Revenue Protection Officer (ticket inspector)
  • Foot health gain facilitator (chiropodist)
  • Head of Verbal Communications (secretary)
  • Technical horticultural maintenance officer (gardener)
  • Flueologist (chimney sweep)
  • Dispatch services facilitator (post room worker)
  • Regional head of services, infrastructure and procurement (caretaker)
  • Knowledge navigator (teacher)

Buzzword Generator for those who need more management speak




Take a word from each column to make the phrase e.g. Optional policy concept

And finally … An Innocent promise – which is beautifully plain and simple

I saw this on a bottle of Innocent smoothie and just loved it!

“We promise that anything innocent will always taste good and do you good.  We promise that we’ll never use concentrates, preservatives, stabilisers, or any weird stuff in our drinks.  And if we do you can tell our mums.

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