The use of catchy slogans internally across organizations and even within individual functions is becoming ever more prevalent. Slogans like: “Winning Together”, “New ideas. Better HR”, “We deliver results” and the like, are slogans we will all recognize.
Similarly, buzzwords like “Empowerment”, “Accountability” and “Collaboration” also get liberally used, often without substance.
Slogans and buzzwords in and of themselves are not bad. In fact, most of these represent healthy characteristics and direction. I understand the reasoning behind them. Everyone is overworked and under-resourced so leaders who want to energize, motivate and inspire their people are constantly looking for the latest fads; new messages, slogans and ways to infuse renewed energy and hope to the troops. That is a commendable endeavor.
However, the problem begins when slogans and buzzwords limit leaders’ ability to see straight, face reality and own the issues and gaps they have around them.
I was working with a finance division of a global technology company. Team members were very good at what they did but the different departments within the larger division worked as fragmented silos with little collaboration, communication and sharing. It was actually worse, there was internal competition between departments which often caused major issues in the overall ability of the department to provide excellent support to its clients.
The head of the division decided to put an end to the dysfunctionality and turn his division into a cohesive team. He took his managers to an offsite session where he laid down the new law. All managers, some reluctantly, committed to the change. To commemorate their watershed meeting the managers decided to brand their effort and its purpose: “We are One Finance”.
At first, people made an effort to better behave consistently with the new slogan. However, after a while, things started to slip and deteriorate again. No one really paid attention to the deterioration because everyone was still captivated by, and referencing the team slogan “We are One Finance”. The dissonance between the slogan and reality got wider. It took a long time for the team to confront their reality of things being bad again.
Take another example in a different organization. I was sitting in a meeting in which the team members were reviewing their strategic initiatives. They had ten initiatives, which they clustered into three groups. Each initiative had a junior manager leading them, and each cluster had a senior manager leading them.
While creating the clusters made sense from an efficiency standpoint, as there were fewer clusters than initiatives, and while the senior managers kept stressing that this model enabled “Strategic Alignment”, “Business Collaboration” and “Scale” between initiatives, many of the junior managers running the initiatives didn’t buy it. They were frustrated because they felt that this structure added no value to the initiatives themselves, only to the status of the senior managers running them.
At some point in the meeting there was a heated exchange between one of the cluster leads and one of the initiative leads, in which the initiative leader again challenged the value of the cluster model. The cluster lead insisted that there was significant strategic and business value to the model because, as he claimed the initiative leads under him were strategizing and collaborating among themselves.
I looked around the room and the body language was deafening. People were rolling their eyes, whispering to each, texting other and passing notes.
Because everyone in the room knew that what the junior manager was claiming was in fact true – there was no strategic alignment, business collaboration or scale taking place between the initiatives. Each initiative lead ran his or her own initiative in isolation and the only time there was any exchange between them was when they had to give the senior cluster manager their PowerPoint slide for his quarterly reviews.
This is a common example of leaders being so consumed with their own slogans and buzzwords that they can’t see the reality around them.
The slogans and buzzwords are not the problem, it’s how leaders relate to them.
So, don’t be hypnotized by any slogan or buzzword, no matter how powerful or relevant they may be. Keep your eyes and mind open and stay real! Otherwise, you will stop seeing objectively what is working and what is not around you. You will check your mental box and believe that everything is going well regardless of the facts.
Don’t swing to the other side either and be one of these people who is always cynical and sarcastic about any slogan or buzzword. That attitude produces a negative environment too.
And, if you happen to fall into oblivion, don’t get defensive or passive-aggressive if people around you try to wake you up. If you do, you could have a worse situation on your hands – an issue with no one feeling safe enough to address it. We all know how that story ends.