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Corporate cover-your-ass words

April 23, 2008

When senior managers are forced to make decisions they don’t want to get blamed for, what do they do? They develop a vocabulary of what I call weasel words. These words can be safely recorded in meetings to prove they’re doing their jobs but they can save the manager’s ass by opening the door to blame others.

Here’s a few that I’ve seen in action. (Note: This was an extreme place where buying a customer lunch without the VP’s authorization can cost you your job. They call it spending money without proper authorization).

Boss: “Yes, maybe we should proceed with the $10 million project. David, can you set up a project team immediately?”
When something goes wrong
Boss: “Wait a minute. I said maybe we should proceed. I never said we must proceed. I said M-A-Y-B-E. You understand English? Now since you’re the one that proceeded without double checking with me, its your fault!”

Substitute maybe above with the word perhaps. Works the same way.

In principle
Boss: “I approved it in principle.”
When something goes wrong
Boss: “But I just approved it in principle. My mind said yes but my cheque-signing hand haven’t said yes yet so technically I haven’t really approved it so you can’t blame me.”

I signed it but I didn’t sign it
Boss: “I’ve signed the cheque with conditions.”
When something goes wrong
Boss: “Look I’ve already spelt out the 5 conditions when I signed the cheque. Since 1 of them wasn’t met, you can’t hold me responsible for signing the cheque.”

Ok (but not really Ok)
Boss: *Sends off an email containing a single word “Ok” to a request for resources*
When something goes wrong
Boss: “Who said I had approved it? I was just noting your request with an Ok. Since you proceeded to spend all that money without my approval, its your fault!”

No black-and-white
Boss: “Guys, we’re really behind time so can you get on it right away?”
When something goes wrong
Boss: “You know our procedure, John. You started work and comitted resources without any black and white from management. That’s a violation of policy so we have to take disciplinary action against you.”

Under consideration (and no intention to approve)
Boss: “Ok I’ll consider it.”
When something goes wrong
Boss: “You haven’t given me enough information.”
2 weeks later
Boss: “What was it that you wanted me to consider? Why didn’t you remind me? Your fault!”

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