Examples of Corporate Speak Masking Reality in Banking and Healthcare



I get annoyed by corporate euphemisms, such as referring to people as “resources,” the term “right-sizing” for layoffs, and the type of jargon and babble parodied in the Weird Al song “Mission Statement.”

Using unclear language can intentionally mask and hide reality, or sometimes it's just another form of incompetence.

You might know about the recent Wells Fargo scandal (as I blogged about here).

The bank is trying to make amends for customers being harmed by unnecessary fees and the hit to their credit score that resulted from accounts being opened in their name without authorization (because employees were under pressure to hit unrealistic goals).

I can't find the commercial online, but Wells Fargo has been running ads that sort of apologize and promise to make things right (better late than never).

The ad says something like:

“… customers who were impacted…”

They don't say WHAT the customers were impacted by. They make it sound like a tornado or some other natural disaster impacted those customers.

The ad doesn't take responsibility for what Wells Fargo management did, for the system they created.

It's passive language along the lines of “mistakes were made.”

Hear Mark read this post (subscribe to the podcast):


I think Lean thinkers respect and appreciate clear, direct language that doesn't obfuscate what really happened and doesn't shift blame.

I guess I shouldn't expect Wells Fargo to say something like, “… customers who were impacted by our mismanagement, lack of attention, unrealistic goals, and bullying of front-line employees…”

The second case of corporate-speak came from Detroit Medical Center (an organization I've also blogged about recently, as their troubles with instrument sterilization were in the news).

See this article: “DMC layoffs don't include sterilization facility.”

For the second year in a row, DMC is attempting to cut costs by laying off 1% of staff. Should they have laid off 2% of staff last year then if they're going back to that playbook again?

I've long argued that across-the-board layoffs are the laziest (and probably most ineffective) cost-reduction strategy instead of reducing waste, understanding the work and customer demand, and setting staffing levels accordingly (that's the industrial engineer in me speaking).

Hospitals often say things like “patient safety is always our top priority” (which is easier said than done, and often said in response to some avoidable incident).

In this case, DMC explained layoffs by saying:

We regularly evaluate operations and staffing to enhance the quality of care and patient experience we provide. DMC operates in the most efficient way possible so we can continue to invest in our facilities and community. Recently, we made the decision to reduce approximately 1 percent of the DMC workforce. We minimized the number of affected employees by first eliminating open positions and realigning certain job functions, with careful attention to avoid affecting direct patient care.”

That's another stock statement, saying layoffs “will not affect patient care.” Easier said than done?

Here, DMC is at least saying they will “avoid affecting patient care” (which is a less definitive statement).

I guess they were also trying to avoid problems with instrument sterilization? How did that work out for them? They claim to operate “in the most efficient way possible,” but maybe they need to focus more on being effective and doing things properly.

I've heard many hospitals say they “had” to lay off staff or they were “forced to” (which is never really true, it's always a choice).

I've NEVER heard a hospital claim they were looking to “enhance the quality of care and patient experience” and then decided that laying off staff would help.

Now, eliminating open positions is probably less harmful to the organization and its morale, but not if people are already overworked. They might think they're already understaffed (which could really mean there's too much waste in their work, but that creates overburden just the same).

It's really hard for me to see how layoffs could IMPROVE quality and the patient experience.

Are they intentionally trying to befuddle people or do they somehow just not know what they're talking about?

Have you seen other examples of confusing or annoying corporate speak lately?

Image by Flickr user jeffrey montes, used under Creative Commons license


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

1 Comment
  1. Paul Critchley says

    This happens so much, I think employees become numb to the words that are used. It’s all double-speak; thinly veiled behind generic statements like “(Blank) is always our top priority”. But their actions don’t match their words. How refreshing would it be to have a CEO stand up and say “You know what? I screwed up, but here’s what I’m doing to fix it…”

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