Eric Jackson, Contributor
I cover the business of technology
** Update: Some people couldn’t stop themselves from opening their kimonos after they read the original list. You really put your thinking caps on. You decided to chime in with some cliche classics of your own. We’re all on the same team here, rowing in the same direction, and it’s not about me, it’s about us, so see many worthy additions to this cliche list in the comments below. Thanks to everyone circling back to me with your comments. All hands were on deck for this activity. Let’s take the time to celebrate this important team win! **
If you’re an MBA at Business School right now, stop studying for that Accounting test next week. I’m going to make it much easy for you to succeed in your career.
Assuming you get your MBA, you’re going to have a basic requisite degree on your resume when applying for most managerial jobs. So, what’s going to ensure you get the job and then get promoted to middle management? Well, aside from combing your hair, brushing your teeth, and wearing nice looking clothes to the interview, you’ve got to be able to speak well.
We all laugh at how the managers in Dilbert or on the The Office constantly spew cliches that don’t seem to mean anything. But those parodies shed light on a basic truth: some tired management cliches will impress enough people that they’ll probably help you get promoted to middle management.
Of course, if you really become a samurai master of using all 89 of these cliches, you probably have no hope of moving up to upper management, because your mind and vocabulary will be filled with complete and utter nonsense.
Then again, for those of you who are believers in the “fake it until you make it” approach to career progression, maybe your self-mastery of these cliches will baffle your bosses so much that, eventually, they’ll let you into the inner sanctum of senior management.
My advice, however, would be for you to avoid all of these hackneyed phrases and find a more original way of talking/thinking about the problems you’re facing.
Here are the 89 biggest cliches that will help you get promoted to middle management because they’ll make you sound like you know a lot about how organizations operate (along with my handy translations). When possible, you should use these in team meetings or in front of your bosses who will have a say in promoting you:
1. It’s a paradigm shift = I don’t know what’s going on in our business. But we’re not making as much money as we used to.
2. We’re data-driven = We try not to make decisions by the seat of our pants. When possible, we try to base them in facts.
3. We need to wrap our heads around this = Gosh, I never thought of that. We need to discuss that….
4. It’s a win-win = Hey, we both get something out of this (even though I’m really trying to get the best from you)
5. ROI [used in any sentence] = Look at me, I’m very financially-minded, even if I never took any finance classes in school
6. Let’s blue sky this/let’s ballpark this = Let’s shoot around a bunch of ideas since we have no clue what to do
7. I’m a bit of a visionary = I’m a bit of an egomaniac and narcissist
8. I’m a team player/we only hire team players = I hope everyone on the team thinks this is a meritocracy, even though I’m the dictator in charge
9. Let’s circle back to that/Let’s put that in the parking lot/let’s touch base on that later/let’s take this off-line = Shut up and let’s go back to what I was talking about
10. We think outside the box here/color outside the lines = We wouldn’t know about how to do something innovative if it came up to us and bit us in the behind
11. I/we/you don’t have the bandwidth = Since we cut 60% of our headcount, we’re all doing the job of 3 people, so we’re all burned out
12. This is where the rubber meets the road = Don’t screw up
13. Net net/the net of it is/when you net it out = I never studied finance or accounting but I sound like someone who can make money if I keep talking about another word for profit
14. We’ll go back and sharpen our pencils = We’ll go back and offer you the same for 20% less in hopes you’ll buy it before the end of the quarter
15. It’s like the book “Crossing the Chasm”/”Blue Ocean”/”Good To Great” / “Tipping Point” / “Outliers” = I’ve never read any of these books but I sound literate if I quote from them. And, besides, you cretins probably never read them either to call me out on it
16. Let’s right-size it = Let’s whack/fire a bunch of people
17. It’s next-gen/turn-key/plug-and-play = I want it to sound so technical that you’ll just buy it without asking me any questions
18. We need to manage the optics of this = How can we lie about this in a way people will believe?
19. This is creative destruction = I’ve never read Joseph Schumpeter but our core business is getting killed so it’s your responsibility to come up with a new product the market will buy
20. We don’t have enough boots on the ground = I don’t want to be fired for this disastrous product/country launch, so I’m going to sound tough referring to the military and say I don’t have enough resources
21. Deal with it = Tough cookies
22. By way of housekeeping = This makes the boring stuff I’m about to say sound more official
23. That’s the $64,000 question [sometimes, due to inflation, people will denominate this cliche in millions or billions of dollars] = I don’t know either
24. Let’s square the circle = I’m someone who can unify two team members’ views and sound important
25. It’s our cash cow/protect/milk the cash cow = If that business goes south, we’re all out of a job
26. It’s about synergies/1 + 1 = 3 = I don’t get the math either, but it sounds like more and more is better, right?
27. Who’s going to step up to the plate? = One of you is going to do this and it’s not going to be me
28. We’re eating our own dog food = It sounds gross but we seem like honest folks if we do this.
29. We need to monetize/strategize/analyze/incentivize = When in doubt, stick “-ize” on the end of a word and say we’ve got to do this and 9 out of 10 times, it will sound action-oriented.
30. We did a Five Forces/SWOT analysis/Value Chain analysis = We didn’t really do any of that, but none of you probably even remember Michael Porter, so what the heck
31. It was a perfect storm = We really screwed up but we’re going to blame a bunch of factors that are out of our hands (especially weather)
32. At the end of the day…. = OK, enough talking back and forth, we’re going to do what I want to do
33. Who’s got the ‘R’? [i.e., responsibility to do what we just spent 20 minutes talking about aimlessly] = If I ask the question, it won’t be assigned to me
34. Let’s put lipstick on this pig = plug your nose
35. I’m putting a stake in the ground here… = I’m a leader, simply because I’m using this cliche
36. We’re customer-focused/proactive/results-oriented = That can’t be bad, right? This is motherhood and apple pie stuff
37. Our visibility into the quarter is a little fuzzy = Sales just fell off a cliff
38. That’s not our core competency/we’re sticking to our knitting = We’re just glad we’re making money in one business, because we’d have no clue how to get into any other business
39. Well, we’re facing some headwinds there = You put your finger on the area we’re panicking over
40. It’s a one-off = Do whatever they want to close the sale
41. Incent it = That’s not a verb but I just made it into one because I’m a man/woman of action
42. I’m an agent of change = This makes it sound like I know how to handle the chaos that our business is constantly going through
43. We’ve got to do a little more due diligence there = Don’t have a clue but does that legal term make me sound detail-oriented?
44. Don’t leave money on the table = Be as greedy with them as possible
45. We take a “ready, fire, aim” approach here = We totally operate on a seat-of-the-pants basis
46. Hope is not a strategy = I don’t have a strategy, but this makes it sound like I’m above people who also don’t have a strategy
47. We have to tear down the silos internally = Our organizational structure is such a mess that I’m going to be under-mined by other departments at every turn
48. I don’t think it will move the needle = This won’t get my boss excited
49. Good to put a face to the name = I’d really rather talk to that person behind you
50. Let’s take the 30,000 foot view… = I like to think I see the big picture
51. It’s the old 80-20 rule = I really have no idea what the rule was, but I just want to focus on the things that will make us successful
52. We need to manage expectations = Get ready to start sucking up to people
53. It’s not actionable enough/what’s the deliverable? = You guys do the work on refining the idea. I’m too tired.
54. My 2 cents is… = This opinion is worth a heck of a lot more than 2 cents
55. I’m going to sound like a broken record here… = I want to clearly point out to you idiots that I’ve made this point several times before
56. We’ve got too many chiefs and not enough Indians = I want to be the Chief
57. Going forward = Don’t screw up like this again
58. My people know I’ve got an open door policy = I’ve told my direct reports to come to me if they have a problem, so why should I feel bad if they complain I’m too busy to talk to them?
59. It’s gone viral = Someone sent a tweet about this
60. I know you’ve been burning the candle on both ends = Get ready to do some more
61. It’s scalable = We can sell a lot of it in theory
62. It’s best-of-breed = We hired a market research firm to say that
63. We’re all about value-add = Unlike our competitors who seek to add no value
64. What’s our go-to-market? = Has anyone planned this out, because I’ve been too busy?
65. I’m drinking from a fire hose right now = I want a little sympathy over here, because I’m tired of carrying this company on my back
66. We’re getting some push back = They’re not buying it
67. We need to do a level-set = I’ve never been inside a Home Depot, but this phrase makes me sound handy
68. It’s basic blocking and tackling = How could you screw this up? I also played high school football and those were the best days of my life.
69. Let’s put our game faces on = Get serious, guys
70. We’ve got it covered from soup to nuts = I have no idea what that means, but don’t you dare question my prep work on it
71. We don’t want to get thrown under the bus = So let’s throw someone else first
72. But to close the loop on this… = Always the more theoretical Business Development/Strategy guys who say this, so they can sound thorough
73. What are “next steps”? = Did anyone take notes during the last 90 minutes of this meeting?
74. This is low-hanging fruit = Get this done quickly
75. We need a few quick wins = We’ve got to trick people into thinking we know what we’re doing by some successes we can point to and claim as ours
76. It’s a [Insert Company Name] killer = Did I get your attention yet with the Freddy Kreuger imagery associated with the company who’s currently eating our lunch?
77. I want to address the elephant in the room = I know you think I’m trying to cover up/gloss over something, so I might as well talk about it
78. This is the next big thing/new thing = Some of our 20-somethings have told me this is really cool
79. This time it’s different because… = Don’t wait for the explanation… simply run for the hills.
80. What are the best practices on this? = How can I cover my behind that we’re just doing stuff the way other good people have supposedly done this?
81. This is our deliverable = I know this sounds like something that comes in a body bag, but it makes our PowerPoint sound tougher than it actually is
82. We’ll loop you in when we need to = You’re not that important to know about all the details on this
83. We want this to move up and to the right = I failed high school algebra but someone said this means we’ll be making a lot of money if this happens
84. We’re going through a re-org = No one knows what the heck is going on at the moment
85. We’ve got to increase our mind-share with the customer = I think I would have been happier as a doctor doing lobotomies than in marketing as a career path
86. I don’t think you’re comparing apples to apples = Let me tell you how you should really think about this issue
87. Let’s peel back the onion on this = I want to sound thorough so this is a better way of telling you that than simply clearing my throat
88. You phoned it in = I was too busy checking my email during your presentation that I didn’t listen
89. I want you to run with this = I just threw you into the deep end of the pool and you’re on your own to figure it out
If you commit all these 89 to memory, I confer onto you an MBA of Business Cliches. Congratulations!
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