How many times have you walked out of a meeting at work and thought to yourself Did we actually talk about anything at all’?

At a recent conference, I counted one speaker saying ‘transformation’ no fewer than 30 times in a 60-minute presentation. Aside from this being a pretty impressive linguistic effort, it highlighted to me just how addicted to buzzwords we’ve become in today’s corporate world.

It got me thinking. Why have we inadvertently created this alternative language? Does anyone actually know what these words and phrases mean and is there anything of substance behind the buzzwords?

What’s all the buzz about?

I have a hunch that we use buzzwords in the workplace for a few different reasons.

  1. Corporate currency – much like the way kids use slang to fit-in around the schoolyard, buzzwords carry currency in the workplace. If you don’t know what it means to ‘shift paradigms’ or ‘unpack the problem statement’, then I’m sorry, you can’t join our club.
  2. What’s old is new again – often buzzwords are used to repackage an old concept to make it feel fresh and new again. Like soft drink manufacturers who release limited edition bottles filled with the same fizzy liquid as all their other bottles, we use buzzwords to the same effect. Have you ever experienced ‘negative growth’? That’s the buzz way to say you’re losing money; or have you been asked to ‘double click’ on a subject? That’s buzz for ‘let’s talk about that some more’.
  3. Honesty – the third and most troubling reason we use buzzwords is because we’ve somehow lost the ability to be honest with each other. Buzzwords help us mask what we really feel along with what we do or don’t know. Hiding behind buzzwords is an easy way to avoid conflict and defer tough decisions to later, or in some cases, never. Have you ever been asked to ‘take this offline?’ or told “I’ll run that up the flagpole.” Wouldn’t it be better if we just spoke to each other like humans?

A bit of fun on a slippery slope

In the corporate world, slipping into ‘buzz’ sometimes happens without us even realizing. Before you know it, you’re ‘moving forward’ or ‘putting a pin’ in something. We all fall foul of it from time to time. At a recent dinner with friends we joked about our favourite buzzwords and just how ridiculous buzzmania has become. To emphasize the point, the next day I sent an email composed in my finest ‘buzz’. It was frighteningly easy!

Thanks for a fantastic dinner last night!

Moving forward, we’d love to touch base again and deep dive into how we can synergistically transform our next dinner. Through the lens of a user-centric approach to dining, we believe there is huge value and tangible ROI to be realized from unpacking the problem statement and solutioning around a specific cuisine.

Please reach out with some options and we’ll huddle internally. At this stage of the dinner development lifecycle, we’d like to focus on the art of the possible, garner buy-in from the stakeholder group and iterate based on feedback. Leveraging an agile methodology to dinner planning, we’ll aim to deliver culinary value by adopting a fail fast mindset. To minimize scope creep we strictly enforce a hard stop at midnight on weeknights and 1AM on weekends.

We look forward to continuing the dialogue and embarking on this transformative dinner journey with you.

All jokes aside - is there anything of substance behind the buzz?

As a matter of fact, there absolutely is. For a couple of years now ‘transformation’ or ‘digital transformation’ more specifically has been the buzzword of choice for everyone from CEO’s to Summer interns.

A recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that nearly 40% of CEOs have ‘digital transformation’ as a top priority for their organizations.

In the spirit of full disclosure, or ‘opening the Kimono’, at Tigerspike, we talk a lot about ‘transformation’. To us, ‘transformation’ relates to fundamentally changing the way a business operates, by maximizing the impact of the available technology to the benefit of end users and the business. The key phrase here, being ‘end users’. We see a lot of businesses embark on a process of ‘transformation’ without having the right mindset to really deliver on their ambition.

We really do believe that to impact meaningful change every decision must be focussed on delivering a better experience for the end user. This includes decisions related to; organizational structures, delivery methodologies, user experience, analytics, security, business models and of course, technology. Whilst all vital components to changing the way a business operates, they should be viewed as enablers of the optimal end user experience, not the central drivers.

Irrespective of size, complexity or digital maturity we have found that most organizations make one or all of the following mistakes when approaching change.

1. Technology alone is not a silver bullet.

Businesses view technology as the single most important component of change and make decisions based on which technology is perceived to be able to help them do things faster and better. The issue with this approach is that more often than not, the needs of the user are not factored into the decision-making process. The business, therefore, runs the risk of investing time and money in a technology that won’t help them achieve their goals, because it won’t be used.

Recommendation: start with defining the experience that will really add value to the end user and work backwards to the technology that enables that experience.

2. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Businesses say they are ‘transforming’ but continue to make decisions the way they always have.

Recommendation: define what transformation really means to your business and focus on creating experiences that will help you achieve those goals.

3. Not everyone gets it.

Businesses don’t have top to bottom buy-in on the new direction. Unless everyone is on board, resistance will inhibit progress and teams will gravitate to the norm.

Recommendation: spend time educating all parts of the business on why the end user must be central to the decision-making process and the overall strategy.

Transformation = an experience loved

Impacting positive change has to start with the end user. If the end user loves the experience provided to them, the desired business outcomes will follow. In an employee context, this will manifest itself in one or all of following; higher employee engagement, increased productivity, cost reduction and revenue generation.

An experience is defined by how it makes us feel. If a user feels great about an experience, the business will reap the rewards of the investment. If not, business performance will either be flat or suffer as a result.

A buzz-free 2018

As we hurtle towards the end of year is it unrealistic to hope for a buzz-free 2018? It probably is, but at a minimum, we should all try to break down the buzzwords, talk to each other as humans, and focus on what will really help our businesses grow.

Chris Watt, SVP Global Corporate Strategy, San Francisco

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