Chief Learning Officer - August 2006 - (Page 52)

CO0806.qxd 7/19/06 10:32 AM Page 52 general left business intelligence Why Businesspeople Jack J. Phillips T h e s e days, t h e r e is tremendous focus on speaking plain English a n d avoiding jargon that can leave the audience completely baffled. A l t h o u g h this is a challenge in almost any occupation, i t is certainly a serious problem in our own profession. Enron's performance in 2000 was a success by any meas- There has probably been no article more devastating to the ure, as we continued to outdistance the competition and human resources profession than one that appeared in the solidify our leadership in each of our major businesses. We August 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine. In this arti- have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or cle, Why We Hate HR, author Keith H. Hammonds have contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility described the many serious problems facing the HR profes- and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions. sion. Among those was our love of and infatuation with ... We have metamorphosed from an asset-based pipeline terms, phrases and communication that seem to make little and power generating company to a marketing and logis- sense to anyone. In this article, the writer describes a pres- tics company whose biggest assets are its well-established entation at a major conference. The presentation, From business approach and its innovative people. Technicians to Consultants: How to Transform Your HR Staff Into Strategic Business Partners, focused on issues Obviously, this is difficult to understand. This trend in that were both puzzling and confusing. The presenter talked foggy writing led the authors of this book to conduct an about internal action learning and being more planful in experiment. They set up a research shop of sorts at a my approach. She described initiatives in performance Starbucks location, where they asked customers to view management, organizational design and horizontal-solu- one of two actual company writing samples. One sample tions teams. The presenter also discussed leveraging inter- was written in straight and clear language, and the other nal resources and involving external resources. The presen- was typical corporate speak such as the example above tation left the audience dazed. That evening as the author from Enron. They asked the same people to select, from a mingled with the other HR pros, they all agreed that they list of 30 common psychological traits 15 good and 15 didn't understand much of the presentation either. bad , which traits they would associate with each source. Not surprisingly, the audience didn't like the bull sample. Unfortunately, our profession has latched onto too much Obnoxious and rude were two of the four traits they jargon, often leaving many of our strongest supporters in assigned to the bull excerpt. Other bad traits associated the management team wondering what we're saying, and with the bull passage were stubborn and unreliable. None even what we're doing. But help is on the way in the form of the 15 good traits were associated with the bull example. of books and even software. Yes, software software that was announced on CNN's Moneyline with Lou Dobbs. The straight-talking example fared much better, with five According to Dobbs, A new software program sends a of the good traits likable, energetic, friendly, inspiring clear message to corporate America: Cut out the bull. and enthusiastic positively correlated with straight talk. New York-based Deloitte Consulting admits it helped fos- August 2006 ter confusing, indecipherable words like `synergy,' `para- One reason why business people speak like idiots is that digm' and `extensible repository,' but now has decided they use 50-cent words to make a five-cent point, the enough is enough. The company has released `Bullfighter' authors proclaim. That's why we say things such as initi- I I Chief Learning Officer to help writers of business documents avoid jargon and ate project action plan rather than let's get started. We use clear language. fear that straightforward language might make us look dumb. The Starbucks study showed just the opposite. In addition, a team from Deloitte has written an impor- Intelligent and educated were two of the 30 traits studied. tant business book, Why Business People Speak Like The study showed there was no statistical difference Idiots: A Bullfighter's Guide. This major book gets at the between the straight-talk sample and the bull sample on heart of jargon, wordiness and evasiveness, which the these two traits. Thus there is no payoff for verbosity. authors characterize as active ingredients in modern busi- ness-speak. Consider, for example, this excerpt from The long sentences we use are also culprits. In the 1940s, researcher Dr. Rudolph Flesch developed a document Enron's 2000 annual report: 52

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Chief Learning Officer - August 2006

Editor's Letter
Table of Contents
Taking the Lead
Best Practices
Learning Solutions
In Practice - U.S. GAO
In Practice - Army National Guard
CLO Profile
In Practice - PerkinElmer
Case Study
Human Capital
In Practice - Countrywide Financial Corp
In Practice - Siebel
Business Intelligence
Advertiser's Index
Editorial Resources
In Conclusion

Chief Learning Officer - August 2006