ACTION ITEMS. A fancy term for your current workload, which used to be called “assignments” back when people didn’t take offense at being assigned tasks by their bosses. But these days—when bosses are all called supervisors, like glorified hall monitors, because of Corporate America's rampant “I am the boss of me” sense of entitlement—which means that a supervisor can’t actually order around subordinates without making them feel like, well, subordinates— the Powers That Be want their slaves to feel like their chains are a fashion choice. So it took Corporate America no time at all to come up with a sexy synonym that implies adventure instead of subservience and mind-numbing drudgery. This is particularly ironic because the main features that make up an action movie (adventure, violence, profanity and sex) are the same for an action item (the adventure is not getting fired, the violence is visions of killing your supervisor, the profanity is muttered under your breath, and the sex is you being fucked over).
ACTION FIGUREHEADS. Supervisors who promise change, results, and transformationals, and then assign the real work to you.
BEST PRACTICES. What a company does until it gets caught doing it. In theory, “best practices” means rigorously obeying the letter of the law as opposed to squeezing through the usual loopholes. In practice, it means breaking the law without actually alerting the regulators that a crime has been committed. All investment banks promote best practices as a standard; the fact that they continually have to promote them at all gives you some idea of how standard they really are.
CHALLENGING ECONOMIC CONDITIONS. (Also known as CHALLENGING ECONOMY.) The current panic-free synonym for Depression, replacing the previous panic-free synonym Recession once it, too, became a cause of panic. The beauty of this three-word phrase is that it is too nebulous to ever cause panic. It is also the drumbeat of doom that clever investment banks keep repeating over and over again, in order to lower salary expectations and undermine job security in their rank and file workers. Which is hilarious when you consider that “bad times” is defined as only making 2.1 billion dollars a quarter instead of 2.5 billion. The phrase is also consistently used as an excuse for unpaid overtime and making employees do three jobs instead of their usual two, in the interests of “meeting the challenges of a changing economy.” This is a meeting which will never take place in an executive conference room.
COMPLIANCE. Diligently obeying all the laws you’ve paid a fine for breaking in the past. Corporate compliance says that when your hand has been caught in the cookie jar, you have to be careful around the cookie jar. The rest of the kitchen is fair game. This is fine with Federal regulators because — like doctors and healthcare professionals — regulators are only interested in diagnosing the disease after the patient is sick, not preventing the disease from starting in the first place. So as long as you don’t show any obvious symptoms, a smart corporation can manage to get a clean bill of fiscal health without the annoyance of regulatory check-ups. Some common examples of compliance outside the investment banking industry can be found in the phrases “My wife’s suspicious; I have to play the good husband,” “My teacher’s standing right over my shoulder; I can’t cheat on tests anymore,” and “There’s a cop in front of the bank; we can’t rob it.”
DEEP DIVE. Bullshit backed up by PowerPoint slides. Ostensibly a presentation which supplies verifiable facts as opposed to the usual bullet points and jargon, a deep dive usually takes place (a) when people start asking intelligent questions that poke holes in the normal day-to-day BS that passes for information; (b) there is a special interpretation of the facts that needs to be understood so that the facts can be ignored; or (c) when an army of facts needs to be deployed to support a particular world view. The implication being that all the information we gave you originally was shallow, if not totally wrong, and this is what you really need to know, honest—until we do a deep dive on the deep dive. (See PRESSURE DIVE.)
DEPRESSION. The “Fire!” that always clears Wall Street’s crowded theatre. A word that is never, ever (ever) spoken aloud when discussing the stock market, which is proof positive of the herd mentality of the industry, as well as the house-of-cards stability of the current market economy, which can be blown over by a single whispered run-on-the-bank-causing stock-price-plummeting three-syllable word.
GAAP. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, which, as the name suggests, are generally followed. Not to be confused with GAAL, Generally Acceptable Accounting Loopholes, which are always followed.
“I HEAR YOU.” Shut the fuck up.
MENTORING. What happens when a man with experience or a high position takes a man with little experience or a lower position under his wing, and guides him through the mine fields of the company’s bureaucracy. This word is sex-specific. When a man with experience or a high position takes a woman under his wing at work, this is called HAVING AN AFFAIR. And when a woman with experience takes another woman under her wing a work, this is called CONSPIRING.
ON BOARD. Welcome to the Titanic.
ON POINT, STAYING. Never saying anything that will result in an embarrassing question.
SENSITIVITY TRAINING. “This is the shit that will get us sued. By saying that out loud, we are now legally covered when you go back to your office and talk to your secretary’s tits.”
"THERE’S NO RIGHT OR WRONG HERE." It’s wrong to the power of ten.
TOWN HALL. A spontaneous departmental gathering during which scripted questions are given prepared answers, and after which profanity will be bleeped out, awkward pauses will be edited away, and Compliance will request a dozen edits of substance to retro-delete the two greatest enemies of Corporate Communications: remarks that are actually honest, and remarks that could lead to lawsuits or criminal charges. The kind of meeting which, if it took place in Stalinist Russia, would be dismissed as nothing but propaganda; but since it happens in Corporate America, it stands as a prime example of the purest form of employee democracy, where everyone has a voice. Since that voice is always the glorified press releases of Corporate Communications, the “purest form” part of this definition is (sadly) all-too accurate.
URGENCY. Panic. When someone in management uses the phrase “sense of urgency,” head for the hills and don’t look back. Learn from history—Custer at the Little Big Horn had a sense of urgency. Travis at the Alamo had a sense of urgency. The French at Dien Bien Phu had a sense of urgency. They all soldiered on regardless. Do the same at your own peril.
Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells