The Behavior Behind the Buzzwords
When an activity turns into a buzzword, the odds are high that managers will stop thinking consciously about the behavior they’re trying to elicit and the best way to set expectations clearly. That’s why it’s important to pay attention when buzzwords take over management’s most important responsibilities.
Business writer Joan Magretta explains, for example, how thinking outside the box,” a phrase that makes many people cringe, is a useful metaphor when properly understood. The vital work of innovation in companies is sparked precisely because there is a box — a puzzle with rules that limit and define good solutions. Managers must clearly understand the constraints — the shape of the box — if they are to help their employees think sensibly about innovation.
She also takes on “resource allocation,” a dry-as-dust technocratic phrase that actually refers to one of management’s most difficult and emotionally charged responsibilities. The crux of the matter is that providing resources for one project means not giving them to another. In other words, it means that managers often have to say no when it is easier to say yes.
Last, she focuses on “respect for the individual,” a phrase that, even when used sincerely (and often it’s said insincerely), implies a kind of everyone-gets-treated-the-same ideal. In an organizational context, this phrase really refers to management’s need to match the right individual to the job — and harsh as it may sound, to fire those who are in jobs they can’t perform.
Buzzwords and catchphrases can speed communication. But when it comes to the messy, human realities of management, a dose of straight talk — and clear thinking — can go a long way.