Magazine article Workforce

Vague Speak and the Thistlebottom Line

Magazine article Workforce

Vague Speak and the Thistlebottom Line

Article excerpt

I'd like to thank all of you for coming out on this icy winter morning. Today's workshop, as you can see from the stack of yellow handouts in front of you, is titled, "How to Gain Power and Influence in Corporate America."

I'd like to start by getting to know more about you. How about you, ma'am, in the red blazer. What do you do for a living?

"I'm Maria Nonsenseker and I'm vice president of knowledge management for an electronics company."

Wow! That sounds important. What does a VP of knowledge management do?

"I facilitate the strategic alignment and fiduciary integration of human capital capabilities with viable top-line corporate objectives."

Fascinating-I think. What brings you here today?

"I'd like more authority to effect positive cultural changes, but I'm experiencing difficulty getting a seat at the executive table."

Well, Ms. Nonsenseker, hopefully we'll be able to help with that. How about you, sir, in the green bow tie. What do you do?

"I'm Rich Obscurich and I'm a human resources executive. I work to continually revisit, reinforce, and renew my organization's commitment to marketplace eminence by ensuring that our associates are supported by the requisite operational, transactional, and pharmaceutical infrastructure."

Thanks a

"Wait! I'm not done. I also benchmark best-of-breed process leaders in order to effect functional excellence related to reputational capital, brand identity, breast implants, and strategic intercontinental ballistic missiles."

I see, Rich. And what brings you here?

"People in my organization don't understand me."

"Well, duh!!!"

Excuse me! Who said that?

"Here! In the back of the room."

What did you say, sir?

"I said, duh!"


"Yes. Duh. No wonder nobody understands Mr. Obscurich. He doesn't use language that people can understand. Reputational capital? Transactional infrastructure? What the hell do they mean?"

I'm sorry to be nosy, sir, but what makes you such an expert?

"Mrs. Thistlebottom."

And she is?

"My eighth-grade English teacher. She was a kick. She always had little stains on her blouse. Usually spaghetti or coffee or something like that. She looked peculiar, but man, that woman could teach."

And what, exactly, did she teach you? "She taught me to communicate clearly. 'Speak to be heard,' she always said. 'Don't speak to impress.' People in this room obviously don't get that."

Don't you think you're being a little hard? I mean, you don't know these people.

"Yes I do. I used to be one of them. I was head of human resources for a high-tech company. My goal, at the time, was toquote-'get philosophical alignment about the relationship of human capital to the business model in order to devise the strategic framework necessary to optimize our shareholder value'-unquote. My sentences were so long I often didn't breathe for minutes at a time."

What changed?

"I ran into Mrs. Thistlebottom." Your old teacher?

"Yes, sir. Turns out Mrs. Thistlebottom was one of the primary shareholders in our company. Apparently, her husband had invented a highly successful stain remover that turned them into millionaires overnight. Mrs. Thistlebottom retired from teaching and started investing in high-tech start-ups.

"One day she was present at a shareholder meeting in which I stood up and babbled, as I often did, about centers of excellence, blah blah, talent development, blah blab, delivery-system redesign, blah, blah. …

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