As twisted, meaningless, and as camouflaging the language of managerial bullshit speech is, it still moves on rather relentlessly. Its deeply ideological construct is pushed ruthlessly by the corporate apparatchiks of Managerialism.
While most dismiss managerial buzzwords as simply being bullshit, very few pause to critically reflect on the ideology that is propagated. The exact opposite is the case in the corporate world of business – wherein a senseless language is used every day.
CEOs, top-managers, their ever so obedient corporate apparatchiks, and the ideology purveying apostles of Managerialism – the true ideologues – rely on the language of Managerialism, e.g. bullshit talk. They do this to make themselves look important – if not clever – in the best understanding of what became known as Impression Management.
Much of managerial bullshit speech underwrites what language-philosopher Wittgenstein noted as, to leave everything as it is. Worse, it is to further cement the power of management.
Even worse than this, is the fact that there is an industrialization of managerial bullshit speech – such as lying by obscurity. This sort of ideological corruption of language often takes place in corporations, business schools, corporate think tanks, business lobbying agencies, and foremost in management consultancy firms.
The empty jargon of managers is designed to pretend authenticity where none exists. It is filled with unclear un-clarities, platitudes, commonsensical, fashionable words, misleading double-speak, and silly emptiness – all pretending competence and the restless action of management.
The vogue is, for example, to no longer call a major environmental destructive corporation BP, as British Petroleum but “Beyond Petroleum”. In that way, BP’s corporate greenwashing can pretend – now with solar panels on petrol stations – that the corporation is sustainable.
BP’s corporate sustainability report – always downloadable and always sexed-up in nature-supporting green colors – will, I am sure, outline in great length the sustainability of BP – ornamented with convincing PR photos. What shouldn’t be forgotten is BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill killing eleven workers.
Many of these things are camouflaged through raft of handy ideologies like corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, business ethics, sustainability, the triple-bottom line, etc. which, of course, adhere to stakeholders – one of the all-time favorite ideology of Managerialism. Much of this operates just as outlined by French philosopher Baudrillard’s masterpiece Simulracra. In short,
the boss pretends that he has something to say,
his subordinates pretend that they listened to him.
Listening to bosses has become ever much harder given the existence of managerial buzzwords and, of course, the ever helpful array of buzzword generators of wordsmanship, MBA Jargon Generators, and Gobbledygook.
Perhaps it is the New Age language creeping in so perfectly as presented by Scott Adams’ Dilbert. One of the true masters of management was Jack Welch, the former boss of General Electrics. Once framed as ‘the manager of the century’ by the likes of Fortune, today, his GE is merely a shadow of itself.
On one occasion (and these things change frequently), the hottest topic in town among managers was the benchmarking of everything. Today, that too, is gone, well almost. Like the fashion industry, management consultancy lives from the invention of ever-changing theme and their accompanying corporate language and buzzwords.
Yesterday, it was diversification enticing, for example, car corporations to buy into unrelated industries and selling them not much later for a huge loss. Today, it is “core business” that is pushed to legitimize outsourcing and fire workers.
Those who drive much of this are called CEOs – Chief Executive Officers. Those who supply the legitimizing ideology are now, and very fashionably, called CVOs: Chief Visionary Officers.
Of course, buzzwords demand that they have it in their DNA to be a CEO or CVO. How do they know this? Well, they know it when made keynote speaker or networking dinner speaker delivering – almost naturally – an inspirational talk.
Language flexibility is required because these corporate apparatchiks can, among many other things, convert a Marxist term like surplus value into something recently outlined by German parcel delivery giant DHL. DHL says, we deliver surplus value for our customer, employees, and investors. Marx would turn in his grave.
Of course, all this is most important for the crème de la crème of management, the startups – another key buzzword. The myth of the Uber-successful “startup” – failure rate is 90% – lives most on business jargon, the hallucination of habitus, corporate spirit, and, of course, the ever so handy myth of entrepreneurship.
In many cases, such startups are often requested – by financiers, banks, supporters, etc. – to hire very expensive “strategy consultants” like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). They strategically assist such startups to plan into the future. In management, if you can think about one year ahead, you are – almost automatically – in strategic management.
Yet, these strategic consultancy firms as well as CEOs are undeterred by the fact that the average length of service for a CEO is 6.4 years, as success in buzzword generation will get you your next job. And if not, there is always a golden parachute.
What corporate buzzword generators like PwC enforce is as a quasi-religious corporate community centered around the catechism of Managerialism. Gone are the days of the worn-out “we are one big family”.
Today, it is corporate “agility” – which surprise, surprise and according to the managerial snake oil salesman, has exactly 9 components. Yet, there is also adaptation, goal attainment, integration, and latent pattern maintenance. Some corporate consultants truly sell their ideology as “agility is the silver bullet’.
The idea behind much of this is to create a so-called corporate identity converting a human identity (unwarranted and useless) into an identity useful to management and the corporation. This is supported by an appropriate “incentive”.
On which Germany’s Deutsche Bank, in 2019 – while losing €5.7 billion (with a “b”) – paid €1.9 million to a selected circle of top managers. What human resource management called “performance management”, is something for those down the corporate hierarchy – not for those on the upper level.
To divert attention away from what bosses get and what workers get – or not get – one of the preferred language tools of corporate apparatchiks is the “mission statement”. German engineering firm Siemens, for example, has a very illuminating mission statement, ingenuity for life. Even though in the Portuguese language “ingênuo” actually means clueless.
Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank goes with “performance through passion” while chemical giant BASF prefers, “we create chemistry”. Whether silly, stupid, or absurd, corporate mission statements make up a key part of corporate public relation.
This, in business language, creates “potential” just as the city of Berlin rather stupidly put it, “Berlin has a great potential to optimize its structures”. Beyond the gobbledygook, it shows how easily and seamlessly business bullshit enters the public sphere. What is important is to show “outside-the-box” thinking, as managers say.
This is particularly true when it creates “synergies” in which 1+1= no longer 2 but 3. Two good examples out of Germany for synergies are, firstly, Mercedes-Benz taking over Chrysler to create synergies only to end the highly damaging Chrysler affair with its subsequent sale.
Secondly, there is Monsanto-owning Bayer buying Monsanto for $63bn. Dealmaker Hugh Grant (not the actor) left with $123 million in his pocket. Meanwhile, Monsanto was clocking up 125,000 lawsuits because of cancer-causing Roundup. In the end, 1+1 turned out to be “0.5” – except for the bosses.
As bosses and workers never meet “eye-to-eye”, corporate apparatchiks have invented “eye-to-eye” meetings to disguise this fact. The very same can be said of the “customer is king” ideology, which in reality can boil down to call centers that are outsourced to Bangalore. They are also to be found in the call center capital of the world – the Philippines. Much of this is done to enhance consumer centricity.
According to standard management ideology, workers must be flexible. Flexibility continues to be one of the master buzzwords. Flexibility camouflages not only workplace despotism, it also smokescreens what Guy Standing calls The Precariat.
The precariat marks a kind of “lumpenproletariatization” of workers. For decades, the neoliberal workplace has delivered increasing job insecurity and “despotism on demands”. It pushes workers into the low wages sector encompassing, for example, 22% of Germany’s economy.
At the same time, workers are no longer just “workers”. Now they are called “partners” and “associates”. This cover-ups the fact that everyone is placed into eternal competition as prescribed by the neoliberal ideology.
Eternal competition – setting workers against workers – constitutes a key part of the neoliberal worldview as determined by romantic hallucination of a local village market – framed as the free market. Astonishingly, even such a local market was regulated by time, place, state-issued money, and regulated weights to be used, etc.
On the background of the “free market” phantasm, corporate apparatchiks promise that victory in competition can be achieved through something managers call self-optimization. Through this, a human being ceases to be a human being and becomes a “performer”, or better, a “high performer” who works in a so-called “high performance culture”.
In such a “high!” performance culture, the individual is exposed to constant evaluations, assessments, surveillance, and control by corporate apparatchiks based on a climate of fear. This is spiced up by managerial bullying, organizational stress, micro-aggression, and micro-management.
To smokescreen much of this, corporations have a diversity manager to enhance group egoism inside companies and corporations. Officially, this is often framed as fostering a positive organizational culture. Much of this is based on a “collaboration” using “collaboration tools”. Gone are the days when a collaborator was simply a traitor in cahoots with the enemy. Today, they are helpful minions of management.
Unsurprisingly, collaboration makes a business sustainable – with or without – corporate greenwashing. The corporate ideology of sustainability may date back to a Prussian lieutenant of 1713. Hans Carl von Carlowitz advocated that forest owners should not take more timber out of the woods than what grows back.
Today, even corporations that have caused the death of millions, like British American Tobacco are sustainable. Unlike their victims who expired early, these corporations are sustainable.
Similarly, weapons’ manufacturers like Rheinmetall are also sustainable. Nowadays, you can kill people: “sustainably”. Among the sustainability lunacy, the growing madness of all this is the – rather inevitable – “sustainable love life” or nachhaltiges Liebesleben in German. It comes with 9 tips!
And if this does not work, there is always “coaching” – and, most obviously, the ever present leadership coaching. All this has been invented to develop your “high potentials”. And that gives you a “purpose” as even corporations need to have a “purpose” – which never can be what it actually is: profit maximization. The ideology of a purpose also means that a corporate purpose can well be sustainable – just to close the ideological circle.
To crank up the image of sustainability, corporations no longer recycle – now, they upcycle. Armed with the upcycling ideology, the greenwashing of environmentally destructive and CO2 creating companies, like for example, the German airline Lufthansa, can continue almost unhindered.
While Lufthansa was recently “Misleading Flyers With Carbon-Neutral Claims”, the corporation also offers a “Lufthansa Upcycling Collection” – recently upgraded to “Upcycling Collection 2.0”. It featured, for example, a laptop bag for $200. Comforting your high-flying petit bourgeois semi-morality while flying, for example, from Frankfurt to Düsseldorf (an ultra-short distance of just 117 miles), does not come cheap.
Corporate public relation has assured many that even air polluting corporations like Lufthansa have an impeccable “code of conduct”. These codes follow the tradition of a religious catechism – nobody reads it voluntarily. Yet, it propagates the so-called values of a corporation like “integrity”, “partnership”, etc. Surprisingly, corporate profits are nowhere to be found.
While enhancing profits, workers can dream of another corporate mirage – the infamous Work-Life-Balance – for which one German online retailer has even set up a “lunch disco”. Go inside and another corporate lingo will immediately befall you, “mindfulness”. This is a proven method to ease organizational stress – rather than the easing of work pressure itself. Bingo! Unsurprisingly, Germany’s SAP even offers a “Global Mindfulness Practice”.
Mindfulness might even assist you when facing an assessment center. In its German version, it originated in the 1920s as a test for military officers. Later, it was used by the OSS and its successor, the CIA. While heavily prescribed and used by HR-managers, assessment centers are mostly for the semi-pathological self-loving narcissist, as 65% of people said in a recent survey. They also said, it is good to have a talent for stage acting.
And if that does not work, there is always business coaching with about 8,000 coaches in Germany alone. Coaching ranges from business coaching, financial coaching, tidy-up-your-house coaching, fashion coaching, and of course the always inevitable sex coaching. Yet, the unchallenged king of it all is executive coaching.
Once you have mastered the coaching, you can show your creativity which will be furnished with a creativity award. One ideology behind creativity is to generate a belief that one can make it on the corporate ladder upwards. In reality however, the strict pyramid-like corporate hierarchies work very strongly against you.
This ‘working against you’ is further enhanced by the fact that, for example, your chance in Volkswagen, of becoming VW’s CEO, is one to 650,00 against you – a numerical impossibility. As a consequence, the ideology of career pathways needs to be kept up.
What always helps is one of the newest kids on the business block: resilience. This ideology assists the belief that it all depends on the individual. If you fail, it is all your fault. In reality, resilience comes from the Latin resilire or bouncing back like a piece of rubber. To push this ideology, managers talk of, for example, resilience leads to success! Naturally, there are resilience coaches which come with its very own business certification.
In the end, much of what is propagated is a mixture between hot air, common-sensicals, bullshit, and pure gobbledygook. However, it is rather dangerous to dismiss management talk simply as being bullshit.
Management talk is targeted, it has a purpose. It is about disinformation (deliberate) rather than misinformation (accidental). Management talk is also a version of mushroom management: keep them in the dark and feed them shit!
A key to understanding management talk is not to wring your head by trying to decipher what managers actually say, but to understand what is said – and more importantly, what is not said – in the context of a particular ideology – the ideology of Managerialism.