A Military Veteran’s Guide to Corporate Jargon (satire)
By Wes O’Donnell, Reach out to Wes on LinkedIn
Warning…This is satire.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully separated from the military. And with your shiny new DD-214 framed on the wall, you can now set out to find the perfect corporate job that will both satisfy your propensity for ladder-climbing and provide a nice little income.
Unfortunately, corporate employees have been separated from the traditional English-speaking society for centuries. As a result, they speak in an odd, confusing and mostly counterintuitive verbiage that confounds even the most learned scholars.
While future historians may look back on American corporate jargon as “the unfortunate times,” you will need to be prepared for the paradoxical and mind-numbing words that, eventually, will make you want to stab your eardrums with a pencil.
As a courtesy, I’ve listed 10 of the most common words and phrases below as well as a brief translation. Feel free to add your own in the comments!
An exceedingly strange way to say “agreement”. Originally, buy-in was a purchase of shares by a broker after a seller failed to deliver similar shares. For your purposes, nothing is actually bought or paid for…unless you work on Wall Street. Actually, I wonder how Wall Street corporations continue to function without getting confused?
“If you hope to get anything done in today’s meeting, you’ll need management buy-in.”
Move the needle (v.)
If your first thought is giving someone an IV, playing an old-fashioned record or accelerating a vehicle, you would be wrong. In business, if something doesn’t “move the needle,” it’s not getting much action or reaction.
“We really hope that this injection of cash will move the needle.”
Easy one, right? It seems like a movement, like that time that Maverick went ballistic in his F-14. In the business world, a vertical is an area of expertise or operations. I know, right…why not just say AO? Unfortunately, we may never know how these strange creatures established their language.
“That’s Jim’s vertical. He’s the expert in all things _________.”
In the corporate world, punt means to take an idea and make it less of a priority. Clearly, this is a sports reference, as you typically punt a ball out of your control and into someone else’s. At least there’s one word on this list that sort of makes sense.
“Yeah, let’s punt that right now and come back to it later.”
Interestingly, this one has some crossover to the intelligence community as in “actionable intelligence”. In business, as in intel, it is something that is capable of being acted on or completed in the near future.
LEGAL WARNING: “Actionable” has a long-standing legal meaning different from the above. You’ve been warned.
“Which of these topics were actionable last quarter?”
No, we’re not talking about a range of frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum; that would actually make sense. Instead, corporations like to take technical or scientific terms and apply them to humans. For our purposes, think physical, mental or emotional capacity.
“Frank just doesn’t have the bandwidth to do that this week.”
Circle back around (v.)
Actually, this one is fairly straightforward. It means putting off an idea for another time or regrouping at a later date to discuss.
“You’re proposing that we offer a discount to our loyal customers? Eh, let’s circle back around to that later.”
Logically, this term would only apply to a postal carrier. In the military, we would (loosely) be talking about mission objectives. Unfortunately, we left logic behind long ago. In business, it is the output of an idea or project. (Just remember, every time you hear the word “deliverables,” a puppy dies somewhere on the planet and the world becomes a little less happy.)
“What are the specific deliverables for this project?”
This is what you get when you order out at a Chinese food restaurant. Ahhh, just kidding. It’s the convoluted and enigmatic summary of a presentation or set of ideas.
In other words, it’s the things that the author or presenter wants you to remember from the presentation. Maybe someday, corporations will skip the presentation and just give us the “takeaway,” saving hours out of peoples’ day. Imagine a world where no one misses their kid’s soccer game again. John Lennon would be proud.
“So, in closing, the takeaway is blah blah blah blah.”
Next steps (n.)
“Next steps” are the tasks delegated to employees at the closing of a meeting. After all, supervisors have to justify wasting everybody’s time.
Next steps are a way for supervisors to feel like they are moving the needle and usually results in deliverables (dead puppy) to which we can circle back around. That’s after we get buy-in from management so we don’t have to punt, which should result in actionable items for key people’s verticals…as long as they have the bandwidth to perform. That’s my takeaway.