Who’s to blame for corporate jargon?

golden-bullJust before Christmas, the Plain English Campaign announced the 2012 winners of its annual ‘Golden Bull Awards’ for bringing plain English into disrepute.    And this year’s winners happen to be my own local NHS Trust!   The Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral NHS Commissioning Support Service wins top prize for this classic piece of jargon-fuelled nothingness:

A unique factor of the NHS Cheshire Warrington and Wirral Commissioning support organisation is its systematised methodology for project and programme management of small, medium, large service re-design and implementation…Building in equality and risk impact assessments the options are taken through a process to arrive at the content for an output based specification and benefits foreseen as a result of the implementation.  The service is inclusive of full engagement with Clinical Commissioning Groups who direct at decision-making points how they wish the proposal to be deployed (re-commission, de-commission or changes to current services/providers), and lastly an implementation team who see the service redesign through to evaluation and benefits realisation.

You can see the other mesmerising award winners here, but be warned, don’t read them all in one go if you are prone to migraines.   The sad thing is, of course, that these great examples of corporate fudge and wizardry are not uncommon.  They can be found in pretty much every organisation.   So who really is to blame?   Is it managers with over-inflated egos?  Is it training?  Is it cultural?  Is it a reflection of poor academic standards before people enter the workplace?   Is it a peer pressure that makes leaders in particular feel the need to appear intelligent and business-savvy?   Is it a lack of confidence?  Is it a reluctance to use emotion and authenticity at work?  Is it a deliberate act of confusion?  Is it comms people … are we to blame for the way this has got so out of hand?   jargon1

I’ve never met a comms person who hasn’t complained about the negative impact of jargon, and almost everyone on the ‘frontline’ tells us they want their comms to be plain and simple … so why haven’t we been successful in stamping it out?   Is the battle now too big for us?   Do we not have the influence?   Or is it the lack of will … do we not consider writing to be important anymore?   I saw a blog entry from a comms practitioner today who said (in the context of looking ahead to 2013) that ‘writing is dead’ and it’s pictures and infographics that matter now.   Are these people serious?  If we give up on writing, prose and realness in our comms, we’ll fall into an even deeper abyss.  The infographics will just become ‘jargon in pictures’.  We may like the look of our pretty graphics but our audience will just shake their heads and wonder where it all went wrong.   I’m all for good use of imagery and graphics, but not at the expense of the written word.  No way.  I think good corporate writing is more important than ever!

Maybe, like the Plain English Campaign, we should recognise the skill involved in being able to write 200 words without any discernible point whatsoever.   A few months ago I listened to a very senior executive speak for a whole hour and not say anything.   At the end of the PowerPoint-filled 60 minute presentation, we all turned to each other and said “what did she say?”.   Now that’s talent!   I don’t think corporate communicators can shoulder all the blame for what’s happening but I do think we have to take some responsibility for it.   Are we really doing enough to stamp this out, or do we just relegate it to the ‘too difficult’ pile and pretend to be outraged by it?

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