JEM Retail Consultants providing services in buying and merchandising, Programme Management, IT services and Logistics & Warehousing.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Consultant Speak With Forked Tongue!

At the end of the day, when push comes to shove, most professions have their own lingua franca designed to make communication easier. Management consultancy may have the dubious distinction of one that purposely does the opposite by creating a vocabulary of confusing expressions that usually have a different meaning to the actual words used. So which ones make you as sick as a parrot?


Having worked both with and as a consultant I often feel that the jargon used, particularly the dreaded three letter abbreviation (TLA) is designed to confuse and exclude the uninitiated who feel too embarrassed to ask for an explanation. Change programmes abound with ERP and WMS, flirt with MMS and WCS and get positively obsessed by EDI and VPN.

As annoying as this can be, at least this shorthand does actually have a specific meaning and failing any other source of information Google can usually provide. Far more sinister is the use of consultancy jargon. I recently worked with a well known IT and e-commerce Director who, faced with any challenge to his preferred way of working, would justify it as "this is just standard good governance practise". This was very clever as although the expression actually means very little (and wasn't true anyway) it places anyone wanting to disagree in the position of refuting a mythical body of opinion that has established the "standard". People tended to stand around and nod wisely in agreement.

Some of my other "favourites" include:

"I just wanted to touch base with you." While superficially expressing a desire to communicate, it usually means one of two things: "I need to ask for something and I know you won't like it"; or "I want to tell you this so that someone else gets to share the blame".

"Let's take this off line." Used by the chair of a meeting to bring an end to a discussion they either don't like or have lost control of. Just be aware that it will probably never be talked about again.

"I'll ping you the deck." Just means "I'll send you the PowerPoint slides (and there are no doubt many of them) by e-mail." Why not just say that? Do these people know how ridiculous they sound?

"Granular" or "granularity." Again, if more detail is required why can't people just ask for it? I suspect that this pseudo technical expression actually means "I can't decide so I'm going to ask for more information I suspect people can't find as a delaying tactic."

"Let me play this back to you" or "What I think you are saying is...." Be warned! This will not be followed, as you might expect, by a paraphrased version of what you have just said to check understanding, but instead by what the speaker wishes you had said, thinly veiled by using a few of your words. If you're not careful then whatever rubbish is about to be uttered will become yours by association.

"We need to keep this on the radar." Lovely expression. Generally means "I don't know what to do about this, but I figure it will come back to bite someone so I'm going to make sure it's you."

"I think we should push back on this." Or otherwise "I disagree violently but desperately want to avoid a confrontation that I know I will lose."

So, consultants are likely to use the language in a truly horrible and generally misleading fashion, but do they do more than borrow your watch to tell you the time (and then keep the watch)? Well under the right circumstances (and, I am bound to say, using the right consultants) then "Yes." Here are some of the benefits:

Focus on the project or programme. The consultants are around to achieve a particular objective, have no day job to distract them and no agenda other than that set by you (i.e. they tend to stay outside office politics).

Wide range of experience and of what "good" looks like. Consultants can bring a greater breadth of knowledge and experience of what can be achieved than that possessed by your permanent team gained from working with lots of clients and in varied circumstances.

They aren't trying to take anyone's job away. Generally speaking people work as consultants because that is what they want to do. They don't represent a threat to people.

Delivery will be on time, within budget, and to the required level of quality (or it will be if you work with JEM!)

I'd love to know from you why you do or don't bring consultants into your business, so please take part and leave your comments in response to this blog. I'll even follow up by adding more entries to the Consultants Dictionary!

Written by Erica Vilkauls: Director JEM Retail Consultants.


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