id850-(2009)A Bit of New Year Twaddle

Written by FT   

With acknowledgements to the FT

Twaddle thrives amid the turmoil

By Lucy Kellaway

Every January, I hand out awards to the world’s top purveyors of business twaddle for outstanding achievement during the past 12 months. This year, however, I was fearful that my ceremony would not be able to go ahead.

Last September, I wrote a column pointing out that the crash had made the bottom fall out of the market in management bullshit; business people seemed to have renounced waffle and were being rather sober and sensible. While this might have been a good thing for the world as a whole, for my awards ceremony it was a catastrophe.

However, I have just looked in my 2008 twaddle cupboard and found, to my huge relief, that it is almost as well-stocked as usual. Not only are there some very fine twaddle entries from the first nine months of the year, but even in the past three months there has been much to commend. It seems that managers’ ability to create twaddle is so fundamental that, after a brief hiccup in September, it is now business as usual. Which means I am now delighted to announce that my 2008 Top Twaddle awards will go forward as usual.

● My first award this year is a new category called Rearranging The Deckchairs. The clear winner here is Citibank, which, just as its business was getting really tough last summer, sent a cheery message to all staff suggesting they download the Citi theme tune to their mobiles. “Citi’s audio brand was composed especially for Citi and ladders off our purpose of ‘Driving Success’,” the message said. The twaddle judges were particularly impressed by the phrase “to ladder off”, as they previously only heard the verb ladder used in connection with stockings.

● The second award is for Economists’ Twaddle. It seems that 2008 was a great year for economists getting it all entirely wrong and then being spectacularly wise after the event. But this year’s award goes to a World Bank economist who hedged his bets so cleverly it was impossible to know what his view was on anything. As he told the BBC World Service: “In our base case simulation there is an upside case that, er, corresponds on the flipside of the downside case in kind of an adverse direction.”

● Third is the award for Most Aggravating On Hold Message, which in 2008 was as hotly contested as ever. However, the clear winner was the UK’s Driving Standards Agency for a message that said: “Thank you for your call. The anticipated waiting time for this call is . . . longer than we would expect you to wait. In appreciation of your time, patience and cost implications to yourself, we are terminating this call.” And then it cuts you off.

● The next award is for the best new job title. The outstanding winner was Diageo, which in the closing days of the year put out an announcement saying Darren Jones was joining “the Diageo Way of Selling team as Design Director for Customer and Channel Profitability and Trade Investment”. The judges noted an interesting new trend in this category: title inflation is no longer in importance but in word length. If there is no money to give people a rise, then the next best thing is to add words to the name.

● Another new category this year is an award for Treating Your Employees Like Animals. So many companies were eligible for this as a result of brutal mass sackings in the past few months that the judges decided it would be unfair to single out any individual entrant. They decided instead to recognise the achievement of Brent Council in London for treating its people like pets. It told staff to turn off computers at night arguing that it “can save dramatic amounts of energy and may earn you a chocolate treat”.

And now for the most eagerly awaited part of the awards: the jargon section.

● The first award in this group is for Nouns Moonlighting As Verbs, which was so popular that the judges are giving out three gongs. The 2008 Olympics introduced the world to the verb “to medal”. This entry medals with a bronze. The Silver medal in this category goes to “to auspice”, while gold goes to the verb “to sunset”. AOL used the verb to great effect last summer in declaring that it was canning some products. “Bluestring, Xdrive and AOL Pictures will be sunset. [They] have not gained sufficient traction in the marketplace or the monetisation levels necessary.” In other words, they were flops.

● In recognition of the economic climate the judges are giving a special award this year for Best Term For Sacking People. An honorary mention goes to the new phrase “dynamic rightsizing”, which means regular sackings, only more exciting and souped-up. The winner, for its sheer disingenuity, goes to “upgrade”. A reader reports that when she was fired by her US company in mid-2008 she was told: “We are going to upgrade you with immediate effect. We are going to allow you to move on in order that you can you use your talents and skills more effectively and thus upgrade your career and opportunities.”

● The final award is for Improving Existing Jargon. A silver medal goes to “to cascade around”. The judges liked the new egalitarianism of this: lest anyone be offended at the idea that a cascade falls from top to bottom, this new preposition makes the idea less hierarchical. Gold, however, belongs to the outstanding phrase “strategy staircase”. The judges felt this represented a step change on the existing strategy tree, and laddered the concept to a whole new level.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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