Plain English Only, Please!

July 1, 2001
While it's politically correct to be multi-lingual, it takes a simple approach to language to make manufacturing work.

Plain English Only, Please!

These days it is politically correct to be a fan of multi-lingual business communications. But, there’s another language issue we’re all living with already and it may be more serious than how to say hello in Hungarian. Just pick up any recent book on business theory and you’re half way to Babel.

This is the Age of Modern Management Theory, and with it has come an avalanche of Newspeak advice from an army of experts. Consider the major myths of the past decade. We’ve seen the end of “bosses” and the rise (if that’s the right word) of the “virtual corporation.”

We’ve got “relationship managers” and “corporate culture managers” and everybody is rationalizing something somewhere. We no longer just diversify; we are told to love diversity but ignore differences. At least, that’s what I hear.

We’ve been “re-engineering” the corporation for years now and “downsizing” and becoming “lean” and “multi-tasking” jobs and “empowering” everyone and turning the factory into the “workplace” and making everyone an “associate” and — it’s smiley faces everywhere!

Of the many buzz words I’ve thrown around in this column, which of them is clear to you? Have you ever told anyone they’re being “downsized?” Sounds like they shrunk in the dryer. Have you ever handed anyone “empowerment” rather than responsibility? Do you really think the “associates” in the shop don’t know what they really are? I mean “employees.”

Or, “virtual corporation?” Or, my favorite, the New Economy? What’s new are the tools and ideas available at any give time. What’s not new is the fact that millions of people want the means (the “flexible, portable statements of negotiable wherewithal,” i.e., the money) to own a Mercedes, live in excellent homes and eat well. The “newness” of the economy is a matter of how you and your manufacturing company deal with those market forces, creatively using the resources you can gather and the skills you can bring to the plant.

Business, especially manufacturing, is a pretty simple endeavor in principle. It’s a matter of making something from something else that people will pay enough for to allow a profit. The engineering details, the accounting details and the huge data pile of details are intimidating enough without all this obfuscating of the obvious.

Clear English is just that clear. Why then does the entire business community take all of this Newspeak so seriously? Perhaps what’s most scary about all of this is that the young people coming into the manufacturing world actually think this kind of vague verbosity carries meaning.

Politicians and comedians and lawyers not only can get away with verbal baloney but make a good living at it, too. For manufacturing, a step away from precision is a step closer to disaster.

Here’s some advice. Next time somebody suggests a seminar on “Incipient Reductionism in the New Paradigm of the Transcendent Corporation,” send her a complimentary dictionary — large type, unabridged.

George Weimer

contributing editor

[email protected]