May 4, 2014
THE MANAGER HAS AS MANY WORDS FOR DOING NOTHING AS THE ESKIMO HAVE FOR SNOW:
The Origins of Office Speak : What corporate buzzwords reveal about the history of work (and what a corporate-buzzword quiz reveals about you) (Emma Green, APRIL 24, 2014, Atlantic)
Douglas McGregor may have written the fourth most influential management book of the 20th century, but Peter Drucker wrote the third: In his 1954 manifesto, The Practice of Management, he wrote that "the manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business." Over the next five decades, Drucker helped companies find new ways to turn "resources"--people, in other words--into productivity engines.In 1981, Drucker started working with one of his biggest clients: General Electric. The company had just been taken over by Jack Welch, who was looking to overhaul its management in the midst of a recession. Over the next decade, Welch systematically redesigned the culture of the organization, hitting a peak in 1989 with his Work-Out program, which was designed to help managers and employees solve problems faster. In the language of Work-Out, low-hanging fruit were problems that were easily identified and solved. Other fantastic jargon from the program included rattlers, or obvious problems (so-named because they "make a lot of noise") and pythons, or challenging problems that come from bloated bureaucracy. A little ironically, Welch wrote that Work-Out would create "a company where jargon and double-talk are ridiculed and candor is demanded."Although Work-Out is credited with reinvigorating General Electric, other attempts to overhaul company culture failed miserably. After AT&T was broken up into multiple companies in 1984, the newly independent telephone service provider Pacific Bell hired two associates of Charles Krone, a California-based management consultant known for following the teachings of Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff. His "leadership development" program, known as "kroning," maintained that certain words helped employees communicate better, improving the health of the organization. Some 23,000 employees went through the $40 million training program, learning new terms like task cycle and functioning capabilities that were supposed to help them care more about their work and express themselves more clearly.Instead, the company's language became incredibly opaque. For example, its 1987 "statement of principles" defined "interaction" as:
The continuous ability to engage with the connectedness and relatedness that exists and potentially exists, which is essential for the creations necessary to maintain and enhance viability of ourselves and the organization of which we are a part.
Clear communication in the workplace scares people, justifiably.When the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the training had caused widespread discontent, the California Public Utilities Commission started an investigation, and the program was discontinued. "Perhaps one thing that we learn from the Krone case," wrote University of Richmond professor Joanne Ciulla in 2004, " is that attempts at engineering appropriate attitudes and emotions can actually undercut genuine feelings for a company."
Posted by Orrin Judd at May 4, 2014 6:49 PM