My Top 40 Favorite Corporate Buzzwords

There are so many great, fun buzzwords, it’s hard to pick my top 40. I’m interested in corporate nonsense, the character in my next book, February Moon, will be too. He’s an “I’ve seen it all” kind of guy, who isn’t impressed with EYMs any longer (Earnest Young Men. You know the type, the twenty somethings who regularly congratulate others on what a “good job” they did doing whatever it is they do.)

Our hero may have been an EYM in the past but he certainly isn’t any longer, having age and experience in his background. And in fact, he and his likewise jaded friend coin their own phrase to see how it takes off and a funny meeting ensues as they discuss “storming the glass castle”, which is met with blank stares by the other meeting-goers who know they should know what storming the glass castle means, but don’t.

Here’s my Top 40 and their definitions (according to me):

1. At the end of the day – The realization that one can plan and plot, figure and reconfigure, all day long, but nothing will change.

2. Bandwidth – As in, do we have enough bandwidth to accomplish this? Or, how many people can we force to work overtime to get it done?

3. Bio break – Visiting the restroom.

4. Blue sky thinking – (See thinking “outside the box”.) The person who comes up with the most bizarre solution wins.

5. Bobbleheading – Mass nods, agreement with the boss, even though he may have his head up somewhere dark.

6. Challenges – Things we suck at.

7. Change management – Forcing objectionable ideas down the throats of customers / employees without them noticing.

8. Come up with an action plan – A “to do” list, but action plan sounds a lot more businesslike and so much cooler.

9. Customer-centric – The pretense that everything we do is with the customer in mind, usually said to the customer.

10. Deliverables – Things that need to get done and stuff that needs to happen, which may or may not, get done or happen.

11. Drink the Kool-Aid – Hold your nose and suck it up until you can collect early Social Security.

12. Empowering our employees – Getting them to work on the weekend.

13. Goal-oriented – Being committed to a future event or future competence, as in “my goal is to end world hunger” or “my goal is to win the lottery” or “my goal is to make it to the weekend”.

14. Going forward – The act of putting bad news behind you so that no one talks about it anymore. Politicians like to use this phrase after they’ve been seen shirtless on YouTube and corporations like BP use it so people will stop talking about how they have totally screwed up our environment and instead start talking about how the price of their stock has rebounded.

15. It’s a new headwind for us – We suck at this.

16. Knowledge transfer – What you do when someone in India is taking your job.

17. Lessons learned – All the stuff that went horribly wrong, and how to keep it from happening again, which of course you can’t because next time it will be new stuff that goes horribly wrong.

18. Leveraging – Stealing someone else’s ideas or expertise, usually without his or her knowledge and in the unlikely event that it is with his or her knowledge, is documented in the form of an email to that person alone where you acknowledge the leveraging but don’t copy anyone else. You rely on the person’s unwillingness to forward the email at the risk of drawing attention to himself and not appearing to be a “team player”.

19. Low-hanging fruit – Stuff that is really easy to do, which has a lot of eye appeal – usually things like papers flying into folders, spinning icons, and mouseovers with a hint of humor.

20. Managing expectations – Being very careful to point out what the project won’t do, so, by contrast, what it will do, will seem awesome and like, totally amazing.

21. Moving the goal posts – Changing the rules midstream as soon as you know that the project is doomed to failure. See “Managing Expectations”.

22. Multi-tasking – Able to walk and chew gum, simultaneously, or able to debug a Java class while listening to Foo Fighters.

23. Next steps – What you propose when your one-hour meeting is up and nothing has been decided.

24. Offline – As in “let’s take that offline”, which means, shut up and I’ll call you later. Only I won’t.

25. On the same page – Oh, groan. Does anyone still say this? It was cute the first time someone thought it up, but now saying it risks corporate shunning. It means having the same tired, slanted, prejudicial corporate mindset as everyone else.

26. Open door policy – The pretense that someone, usually a manager, will actually listen to someone who reports to him. It sounds good in an email, but is a dangerous activity to actually attempt.

27. Think outside the box – Having an original idea, as if anyone could in corporate America. Figuring out new ways to do something, which accomplishes the same old results. This one too, is pretty tired and worn out, so use it with caution.

28. Outsourcing – Elimination of the American middle class.

29. Ownership – Shifting responsibility to someone else so you don’t have to be bothered with supporting it, as, “I’m giving you ownership of our bankrupt client backlist”.

30. Paradigm shift – A new way of thinking about an old, tired subject. Commonly used by dumb people who want to sound smart (note the silent “g”).

31. Proactive – The main ingredient in buzzword soup. A high-scoring word that no resume or project proposal is complete without, at least once in every paragraph. The opposite of reactive, which is bad. Basically, it means, after the meeting, I will get my email out first because I type faster than you, thus, making me “proactive”.

32. Repurposing – The after-the-fact redefinition of the goal of a process or project to comply with what has already been developed, not necessarily what anyone actually wanted.

33. Seamless – The act of incorporating change that is invisible to the naked eye, unnoticeable, a “seamless” transition, until 2:00 AM when all hell breaks loose.

34. Skills transfer – (See outsourcing, above.) When what you do well is given to someone else to do, and you are given things to do that you do, not well.

35. Singing from the same songsheet – Being able to mindlessly reiterate all corporate buzzwords and bs, as if you had thought of it yourself.

36. Ten-thousand foot view – The big picture, i.e., having a lot of grand ideas with no clue as to how to get any of them to work.

37. Touch base – Sending a CYA email to someone to let them know that you haven’t yet done anything, and, in fact, have no intention of doing anything, about a problem to which there is no solution.

38. Transitioning – (See outsourcing, above.) The opposite of a promotion, a lateral move, which is on a gradual, slight decline, usually resulting in the elimination of bonuses or salary increases. As in, “I’m transitioning from Corporate to the Mayville branch.”

39. Win-win – Management wins, customers and employees lose.

40. Wish-list – A well-organized spreadsheet of nice-to-have items, usually prepared by clients, that would increase productivity and improve accuracy, and which they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting.

It is important to note, that “buzzword” is in itself a buzzword, making it iterative and circular. And totally confusing.

Please comment with your favorite buzzword!

10 thoughts on “My Top 40 Favorite Corporate Buzzwords

  1. This is hysterical -laughed my tuckus off!! Can’t think of any more myself, rght off the bat, but will devote some serious thought to this project!!

    • Sue, there are so many more good ones out there, might have to do a version 2. I currently enjoy the activity of counting the number of times I hear the phrase “That being said (blah blah blah)”. And while I despair of the mundane expressions that are popular – so people use them ad nauseum – once in awhile a fresh phrase or word pops out! Like your use of the word “tuckus” which I hadn’t heard before. I liked that. And I’m pretty sure I know which part of the anatomy it refers to.

  2. Awesome stuff. The “low hanging fruit” was a new one for me on my last contract. Not the most logical approach imo but that was the action plan developed prior to my arrival.

    • It’s a really good way to make it seem like a lot got accomplished. Dazzle ’em with bullshit, make it look like they got a lot of improvements when really it was just the easy stuff.

      • Yes, I see that 🙂
        I am now puzzling over the layer (and “credentials”) of “project managers” and some of the other layers that oversee the implementation of “deliverables” – lol. That organizations have sprung up and now “train and certify” people – who may or may not have the actual experience and skills to implement a program or project is beyond logic. It adds $ to the bottom line. Waste. And of course, there is the requisite software to make it all look so very nice and pretty.
        Having been out of the paid workforce for a number of years – “doing nothing” but raising kids, community service and going to school – I missed some of the developing trends in the business world. I need someone who is willing to pay for common sense and logic – I can cut the budget in half and get the work done in 1/4 the time 😉

        • But if you aren’t a “team player” and go along with all the corporate rules and business speak, even though you are professional and creative and competent, you may not be accepted, especially in larger corporations.

          Go small, it’s the only way to retain any sanity anymore.

  3. I love your blog! I recommend it to my students in discourse analysis. One of my personal ‘favorites’ is key performance indicators, a vile buzzword which has outgrown its corporate boundaries and invaded new territories, such as (private) universities. Dreadful.

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