Warning: This blog contains bad language


The English language has around 1,035,877 words.

With all those words, you’d think we’d constantly be creating new phrases and sentences. However, when I switch on the TV and catch a glimpse of any of the current reality shows (celebrities eating creepy crawlies, people stuck in a house being watched 24 hours a day or people singing their way to fame and fortune), I hear the same clichéd phrases again and again; “I’ve been on a journey…”  or, “I’ve given it 110%”.

We may now think of a “meme” as being a humorous image or video which spreads on the Internet. However, “meme” was originally a term used in Biology to refer to an element of a culture or a behaviour which generally spreads from one individual to another by imitation. It’s interesting to think that there’s a biological basis to explain why, over time, people living together or working closely together tend to use the same words and phrases.

It’s also clear that some organisations have their own “corporate vocabularies” comprising esoteric phrases, jargon and acronyms. Employees may find themselves using language which is not actually that meaningful to them or to others within the organisation; let alone to those on the outside looking in!

Take this example of jargon I found in a recent job advert; “…to collect and analyse internal insights in combination with external thought leadership”.

“External thought leadership?” Really?  Like the little boy in the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes, it takes a brave person in a corporate environment to challenge the norm or to point out the truth, “That’s jargon. I don’t understand what you’re saying” or to ask the hard question, “What on earth do you mean?”.

Someone once said, clever people can take complex concepts and make them easy to understand. So, why do others seem to make things more difficult to understand by using long words and jargon? Is it defensiveness, group norms, politics or positioning? Or do people fall back on jargon when they’re unable to give clear direction to others?  The Plain English Campaign (2014) noted that staff working for large corporate organisations can use jargon or management-speak to detract attention from their own poor management skills.

There’s a wonderful “Gobbledygook Generator” on the Plain English Campaign website which, at the push of a button, generates random business phrases:

  • We need a more contemporary reimagining of our holistic asset resources.
  • At base level, this just comes down to integrated relative paradigm shifts.
  • We need to get on-message about our responsive asset programming
  • My organisation believes in systemised strategic contingencies.

You get the gist. Have a go, push the button…hopefully you won’t recognise any of your own phrases in there!

So, whether it’s “blue-sky thinking, touching base offline, having a level paying field and going after the low hanging fruit”, “not enough bandwidth to cascade the relevant information to form the strategic staircase” or “wanting to reach out, circle back and get a helicopter view”, we are surrounded by jargon every day. We may have stopped noticing how much exists in our own organisation…

If you do notice … let me know which phrases, clichés or jargon irk you?

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions


What my Dad taught me about customer service


My dad was a barber; the “old fashioned”, red-pole-outside-the-window type of barber. He left school at 15 and began work in his father’s barbers shop in a small town in North East Scotland. He worked full time until three weeks before he passed away at 83 years of age.

Our family home adjoined his little shop. I can remember the queue of men at 9am and 2pm (after his lunch/nap hour!) waiting for the shop to open and the sound of his customers chatting and laughing. I remember earning pocket money by sweeping the floor on busy Saturdays.

There were times that no cash was exchanged for a haircut. Instead, a bartering system took place; local fishermen would bring fish or prawns, the local butcher would bring a steak or two and farmers would bring potatoes or carrots in exchange for a short back and sides.

My dad ran his little business for almost 50 years. He was proud to say that he had cut the hair of four generations of some local families.

So, what did I learn about customer service from him?

  • Be authentic. My dad was a real extravert; a goatee-bearded, larger-than-life, joke-telling, karaoke-singing, watercolour-painting character. He was entirely himself, always. One of his favourite sayings was, “You’re better than no-one and no-one’s better than you”. People responded to him; it wasn’t just a haircut; it was an experience.
  • Take a genuine interest in your customers. It seemed that my dad knew the story of everyone in town! He knew who was related to whom, what their previous jobs had been and who was ill or bereaved.
  • Go the extra-mile. In his seventies, Dad would still visit the local Nursing Homes to give haircuts to “the old guys” who were unable to come to his shop. I don’t think he saw the irony of a 70-year-old calling them “old guys”. But, then again, he never really was an old guy.
  • Don’t price yourself out of the market. Dad’s prices remained low. He could, perhaps, have charged more but he preferred to keep his prices competitive so that his customers would keep coming.
  • Get out of your comfort zone to provide great service. I remember once, in the early 1970’s, way before the punk rock era, a young man coming into his shop and requesting a Mohican haircut. My dad was daunted…but created an amazing Mohican! Dad had tried something different and his years of experience had paid off!
  • Enjoy what you do. If you love what you do it will come across and the customer experience will be all the better for it. My dad was content; a rare thing in this age of discontent and aspiration. He loved his job and his customers. He loved to chat, to sing and to regale them with his stories and jokes which is why he continued to work long after most people have retired.
  • Take pride in what you do. My dad took pride in every haircut he did – right to the end.
  • Value every customer. My dad was grateful for, and valued, every customer who entered his shop. They knew that and they kept coming back…year after year…

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions