One area in which gobbledygook has run amok is British local government recruitment. Scour the public sector job ads in The Guardian and you’ll see countless ads for Diversity Managers, Inclusion Officers and the like, all accompanied by utterly incomprehensible job descriptions.

 Here’s an example I saw today – East Sussex County Council are looking for an Involvement & Consultation Project Manager, which apparently involves the following: 

This role’s all about providing that valuable support that helps make projects successful. You’ll be a natural ‘people person’ adept at working with groups to empower them to achieve their goals, as well as helping to ensure that the results of consultations are understood and translated into reality. With exceptional organisational and communication skills, you’ll have a passion for service improvement and will value hearing people’s views and acting on them.

Have you read between the lines? They want a secretary don’t they?

Providing valuable support = office lackey
People person = don’t argue when you’re told to make the tea
Helping to ensure that the results of consultations are understood and translated into reality = typing up reports
Exceptional organisational and communication skills = admin

It’s easy to laugh of course, but the chances are, when the recruitment process has finished, neither party (employer or new recruit) will have got what they wanted or expected. The employer ends up with a creative, gregarious, ambitious employee with project management experience, when they really needed a secretary or a more experienced admin assistant; the employee ends up doing basic admin tasks which are beneath their experience, quickly gets fed up, and inevitably infects the rest of the team with their disillusionment.

Such are the results of trying to tart up an essentially basic, mundane, entry-level job. Recruiters who write this sort of nonsense do a disservice to both themselves and their applicants. Better in the long run to write a warts & all ad, being honest about the nature of the job and the duties involved.

Even more insulting, but again sadly all too common, is this little beauty:

you’ll have a passion for service improvement

I’m sorry? A PASSION for service improvement? Come again? Similar cobblers can be seen on the website of a former employer of mine, who have since recruited someone who is “passionate about development methodologies”. Wow, I bet he’s fun at parties.

People are passionate about many things – their wives/husbands, music, art, dancing, sport & the like – but in all my life I have NEVER met anyone who was passionate about mundane business procedures. I enjoy designing Powerpoint slides, writing press releases and speaking at seminars, but that enjoyment is a long way from passion, and long may it remain so. Unless they’re in the adult film business, employers have no right to expect passion from employees.

 Employees want honesty, fair reward and appreciation of their work, and as much job security as economic conditions will permit. Give them that and they’ll reward you with commitment, hard work and enthusiasm. Oversell the job or expect them to live every moment at the office as if it is their last, and they won’t stay long.


Leverage is NOT a Verb!

12 September, 2007

Modern business-speak takes many diabolical liberties with the English language, but the Stateside ubiquity of ‘leverage’ used not as a noun but as a verb, really takes the cake.

Why use the noun form as a verb when there already exists a perfectly good root verb, i.e. lever? Would you say “I can’t imagination why he did it”? “This article confusions me”? “There is water seepaging through the wall”? No. But “to leverage” seems to have become acceptable parlance, without anyone seeming to be sure what it means.

In this excellent article, linguist Martin Edwardes looks at the root of the word and its usage in business, and concludes that it’s basically a ‘portmanteau’ word – “Just as whatsit can be used in place of any other concrete noun, so leverage can be used in place of almost any activity verb. This, of course, can lead to confusion (as is the case for whatsit): if an organisation is “leveraging a project” we cannot know, without other defining reference, whether they are starting it, ending it, or performing some intermediate process. But, at the same time, this obfuscatory aspect of the verb is an important part of its function and meaning.”

Edwardes hits the nail on the head here. People who talk about ‘leveraging’ things are usually trying to be obscure – either because they don’t want you to know what they mean, or because they haven’t got a clue themselves. Edwardes concludes that “It is one of the useful little white lies that allow the business world to keep turning.”

Thus, for people who wish to communicate in a clear, unambiguous, straightforward manner, ‘leverage’ should not be used as a verb. Ever. And really, unless you work for a company selling levers, it’s hard to imagine you using it as a noun that often either.

All of this is why I’ve chosen ‘leverage’ to appear in the title of a blog about clear business communication, its use as a verb being symbolic of the obfuscation, dissembling and cleverly disguised cluelessness that passes for much corporate speak these days. The point of my writings being to expose this sort of nonsense, and to help you communicate more clearly, particularly, as I do, when working in environments where your colleagues, suppliers or customers are not native English speakers.

I would be grateful to receive any examples of particularly cringeworthy uses of ‘leverage’, especially if they can top the following:

“For any requirements not met by using or modifying an existing report, the technical team will attempt to leverage a vanilla report.”

Vanilla report??? Time to write another post…