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With ‘Mission Statement’ Weird Al Just Wrote a Song About Your Office

Geoff Schaadt

If ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic has just moved from mildly amusing to curiously offensive, it’s time to take a close look at your communication style.

If Weird Al just moved from mildly amusing to a comedic genius, then you…

  • don’t have your own office.
  • don’t have a title that starts with ‘C’ or ends with ‘VP’.
  • are not a management consultant.

Mission Statement

Continuing his eight-day assault on mass media, Weird Al just released his latest video via, of all places, The Wall Street Journal.

Enjoy Mission Statement. For the LinkedIn crowd, this is gold. It comes complete with a familiar vehicle — the disembodied hand scrawling time-lapse imagery on a white board that says, “I’m whimsical, but I can still convey a results-oriented message!”

Simple Trumps Clever

“It’s funny because it’s true” is a truism that rings, um, true.

Medicine and engineering are professional fields that require their own specific vernacular — they need to quickly and accurately convey concepts that are highly specialized. These conversations require that all the participants possess a shared understanding of the underlying knowledge.

Guess what? Leaders do not need — and in fact should abhor — specialized language. What they should always strive for is clear language that requires no special understanding of management concepts that underly the executive decision-making process. Here is another communication truism…

“Just because you said it does not mean that they heard it.”

As a business communicator, your overriding goal should always be to make yourself clearly understood. If you happen to come across as intelligent, well-versed, well-spoken, impressive, on-the-ball, high-potential, etc. and etc., this should be a result of the clarity of your thinking, not your ability to string together the popular clichés of the day. (If it really is important to you to appear intelligent in a meeting, wait for someone who really is smart to say something, then repeat it back to the group — very slowly.)

It’s Hard

Yes, it’s hard not to fall into the trap of rattling off a bunch of pseudo-meaningful business claptrap. It’s always harder to communicate with clarity than with cliché.

Have you read the now infamous memo from Microsoft EVP, Stephen Elop, in which he lets 12,500 employees know that they will be part of the 18,000 person effort to “right-size” the company? Yes, he used that term. In a lay-off memo to thousands of about-to-be-former employees. “right-size”

Here is a larger sample…

As part of the effort, we plan to select the appropriate business model approach for our sales markets while continuing to offer our products in all markets with a strong focus on maintaining business continuity. We will determine each market approach based on local market dynamics, our ability to profitably deliver local variants, current Lumia momentum and the strategic importance of the market to Microsoft. This will all be balanced with our overall capability to invest.

Danger-284x423I’m certain that, after reading this, the thousands of impacted employees will feel that they have a much better understanding as to why they will no longer be drawing a regular paycheck.

You’re killing me.

Now, I know perfectly well that you are smirking to yourself and saying, “Hey, you’re the consultant here — you are the cause, not the solution.” I know. Sometimes we external types feel the need to prove our worth by showing everyone how smart we are. So, rather than writing for clarity, we write by the pound. And I do a lot of my work in the public sector, so I’m a consultant writing for bureaucrats. Sometimes I wish that I had an AA style meeting that I could attend; “Hi, my name is Geoff and I have a tendency to obfuscate the point.”

Which is why I love Polly LaBarre’s term for it, “jargon monoxide”. Just like carbon monoxide, this communication method is deadly.

Do Smart Things

If this kind of communication is so toxic, why does it thrive on the upper floors?

I will reference Dr. Bob Sutton

In many business environments people are recognized and rewarded for saying smart things rather than doing smart things.

And, as the carousel of promotion, re-assignment, and re-organization spins faster and faster, few people are in one position long enough that they have to actually live with the repercussions of their decisions.

Is this just a fixture of our corporate culture that we will have to learn to live with? I don’t know. Probably. I mean, come on, Weird Al Yankovic just wrote a song about this nonsense.

But I do know that if more people will focus on doing smart things — not on saying smart things — we will all be better off.

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