by The Escaped Inmate
Clichés and contrivances come to us in forms unbeknownst even to ourselves. We use them as a shorthand to skirt around responsibility. They save us the trouble of thinking deeply.
—Brent Wade, Company Man
I remember a college English Lit class when a classmate asked why Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam A.H.H. was considered so great despite being so filled with clichés. The student didn’t realize that the poet had invented ways of saying things that so captured the imagination that they have been dulled only by their subsequent overuse. With that in mind, I’d like to take a critical look at a few of the clichés in the business world.
“No pain, no gain.” This cliche’s brevity belies its ability to convey multiple meanings. Sure there’s the meaning that’s easy to ascribe: “One does not benefit from the easy experience; the only rewards one can obtain are those proportionate to the difficulty experienced in obtaining them.” The business usage, though, is a bit more ingenious: “No pain for executives and no gain for anyone else.” “No guts, no glory” works similarly: “The executives have no guts and they share no glory with anyone else.”
“There is no I in Team.” So don’t expect me to do anything. That’s the team’s job and you’re on the team. The team has to get this done! Why? Because I’m the boss and I say so. And remember, I’m not on the team.
“This company’s success is a credit to everyone who works here.” And that’s about the most you can hope to see for all your efforts, suckers.
“We have an empowered workforce.” We’ve finally got a way to blame employees for not being more innovative, as well as blaming them when things go wrong. It’s great!
“We’ll have to tighten our belt.” This one isn’t as popular as it’s been, but it’s a cyclical favorite. It’s best understood in light of another analogy – that of the company as a body. Executives are said to “head” a company. A tight belt doesn’t give you a headache, it squeezes the middle. When a company goes in for belt tightening, the top doesn’t get touched and the “lower level” workers don’t get hurt much because there’s nothing to cut for them. The biggest part – the middle – is where the pain is felt.
“We’re all counting on you.” We sure aren’t going to lift a finger to get anything done. That’s why we’ve got you here. Besides, you’re the one who’ll suffer the consequences if you don’t do it.
“Give 110%.” Executive management is really bad at math.
“Give 125%.” Someone tried to explain to executive management that 110% is impossible, so they felt a need to prove him wrong.
“Here at [insert name of company] we’re like a big family.” A severely dysfunctional one at that. So get back to work or we’ll tie you up and lock you in the basement with your horny step-brother again.
“We want our employees to have balance in their lives.” We want them to feel like they’re on a tightrope and if they make one false step, they’re doomed. We’ve found fear to be an excellent motivator.
“We’re decentralized.” There’s no way you can figure out who’s responsible for anything.
“We’re reorganizing to focus on better anticipating and meeting the needs of our customers.” Somebody tried to pin some responsibility down on one of us, so we’re shuffling things really good this time!
“Today’s children are our future.” We’re hoping an asteroid destroys the earth before these snot-nosed vidiots enter the job market. Otherwise we’re all doomed.
- Wade, Brent, Company Man, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing Company, Inc., Chapel Hill, NC., 1992, pg. 46.