Friday, November 26, 2010

Right-sizing the workforce

I used to try to add regular blog posts about the evils of corporate and management jargon, but in many ways this kind of language has become so mainstream that it's often no longer jargon. Sadly, the jargon has won. This article from today's Guardian takes a look at the jargon used in corporate law and it's a depressing read. If you thought Melissa from The Apprentice had swallowed a dictionary of drivel and was talking utter nonsense, then some of the expressions mentioned in the article will probably make you think she was actually normal.

One example is particularly egregious: right-sizing. When used as a noun - "We have to implement some right-sizing to meet our profit forecast" (or some such cobblers) it both hides and confuses meaning. What it really means, of course, is cutting staff - making them redundant - and cutting them to the level that is "right" for the business, or more accurately, the business's profits.

Grammatically, it seems to be a form of nominalisation: a term used to describe a process, that usually involves a verb, becoming a noun. So instead of it being an action or ongoing process, the noun becomes the label for the entire end result.

An simple example might be something like describing a person as a "stabbing victim" - a noun phrase which basically carries the information that the person being talked about is the victim of the process of the verb "to stab". By using nominalisation, the focus is taken away from the process or the action itself, and switched to the person affected by the action. By doing so, in a way, the process itself becomes wrapped up with the person who has experienced it: they become bound together.

Why does this matter? Well, a bit like with the passive voice, if agency (i.e. who did what to who) is hidden, we don't get a full picture of events. We see an end result, but not the process that led us there. It could even be argued that by doing this we are less likely to be able to challenge or prevent the process - we may not even see it - and that hides responsibility and the bigger picture of cause and effect. Still with me? No... Oh well.

In the case of right-sizing, the process of cutting jobs is condensed into the idea of "sizing" - which almost inevitably means making something smaller - but even more devious is the use of "right" which carries with it connotations of correctness and even virtue. But of course, it's only "right" for the person who makes money out of cutting a job. For the person who has been a victim of right-sizing, it's probably very wrong!

2 comments:

JMc said...

This all seems a little Big Brother to me. Next they'll be saying that 'right-sizing' is double-plus good for profit margins.

Dan said...

That's a THOUGHTCRIME!!!