The Funny Thing About Catch Phrases

The funny thing about catchphrases or business buzzwords is that they initially came from a good place. They were a language shortcut—a quick way to convey a situation, philosophy or other basic tenet of business that didn't require a lengthy explanation. Everyone ‘got it’ because they had all lived it and didn't need the back story.
Fast forward 10 years, and suddenly, all anyone uses in business are buzzwords. It became a non-language. Have you ever seen the (now defunct) Dilbert Mission Statement Generator? It basically took nonsense catchphrases and turned them into a company mission statement—and I wouldn't be surprised if companies actually used it to make their mission statement. Shows like “The Office” and movies like “Office Space” make us laugh because we recognize our own reliance on making saying nothing sound important.
So how does that relate to HR? HR has been taught to use the ‘language of the business,’ which apparently extends to using catchphrases, too. We started using them amongst ourselves—almost like a code for talking about awful bosses, difficult employees, impossible situations, annual enrollment, etc. As HR gained visibility and stature in organizations, there was more opportunity to give an elevator pitch to the C-suite. What better way to get the boss's attention than to package it in a phrase? It was a sales tool. 
Catchphrases always start out okay—after all, they have to catch on, right? But they get old … and fast. At their most benign, they sound like clichés. At their most harmful, they limit unique thought. You still need them. All professions have a shorthand vocab to help people communicate complex ideas quickly. But why rely on old chestnuts when they no longer accurately reflect the nature of work today—especially the work HR does.

Please join Mary Faulkner and @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on February 1, 2017 for #Nextchat: HR Catch Phrases Get a Seat at the Table




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