The new corporate lexicon

Forced to cut flab without seeming to be fascist, companies are deputing HR personnel. Here’s how they are couching bad news in benign terminology.

Sushmita Choudhury | Print Edition: April 2, 2009

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Alignment, resources
Formerly known as firing employees. Modern version is ‘market-responsive resource alignment to increase efficiency’. Synonyms include smart-sizing, collapsing the team, right-sizing and inverted growth.

A process where colleagues put their heads together to debate whose fault led to a missed deadline or who introduced errors in the presentation. An evolved form of passing the buck.

Carbon footprint
Usually a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment. Corporatespeak for fewer office drops, an end to company off-sites and strict power consumption monitoring.

Decline extension
The typical phrase is ‘decline a contract extension’, where harassed employees voluntarily resign to escape a hostile work environment. The concept gained popularity after the Jet Airways’ hara-kiri that established mass firing as un-Indian.

Employee engagement
Addresses programmes and channels that keep employees happy, which typically boosts productivity and fosters loyalty. Morale no longer makes the cut.

Fighting trim
It’s all about streamlining operations for maximum resource optimisation, which may or may not lead to lay-offs. The plebeians are still calling it ‘cost-cutting’.

Grant opportunity
The phrase ‘grjanting a career-enhancing opportunity’ is a way of convincing a soon-to-beredundant employee that as his skills are not being utilised by the firm, he should move on to avoid career stagnation.

Hired gun
Used interchangeably with chainsaw consultant. Refers to an expert hired by a firm to reduce the employee headcount so that the top management can keep its hands and conscience clean.

Involuntary entrepreneurship
Start-ups that are driven less by zeal and more by necessity, say, due to a lack of alternative career options when you have just been handed your pink slip. Considered more dignified than admitting that you got fired.

Junior talent
Refers to fresh college graduates, who can be made job-ready with intensive training programmes but are paid half of that bagged by those with a couple of years’ experience. If asked to ‘mentor’ one, it need not be a tribute to your man-management skills. You might be preparing your reliever.

Corporatespeak for continuous improvement, but the Japanese word is trickling down to HR jargon. New usage: aspire to a black belt in Kaizen, a more encouraging way of saying, “Your best is not good enough, try harder.”

Leverage initiatives
A topical, targeted effort designed to influence policy and practice, formerly to increase efficiency but, of late, the end objective is to curb expenses. From downgrading business travel to the no-frills airlines to enforcing car pooling, all new initiatives have one thing in common— they make life more inconvenient.

Managing expectations
To offer the moon, without actually handing over a spaceship ticket. Faced with the twin dilemmas of attracting quality talent without offering ‘telephone number salaries’ (modern jargon for fat pay packets) and encouraging high productivity in a period of salary freeze, the HR team is learning to word promises smartly.

Non-financial retention
Refers to strategies such as flexible work arrangements, careerenhancing training programmes, etc, to keep employees ‘fulfilled’ at a time when organisations are hard placed to woo them with money.

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