The business perils of HR jargon

by 03 Apr 2007

By Craig Donaldson

In the last issue of Human Resources magazine, we featured an interview with Malcolm Jackman, CEO of Coates Hire. Jackman lamented the fact that “People intellectualise HR way, way too much” and that “HR is full of bloody jargon”.

This is quite a common reaction from executives who have been frustrated by a lack of clear, simple communication from HR. In trying to explain the latest trends or fads in HR management, HR professionals often fail to realise that they do themselves a disservice when talking jargon.

HR seems to have more than its fair share of jargon when compared to other functions, and is often its own worst enemy when it comes to HR speak. A lot of it comes from academia, which comes up with complicated theories and terms to try and make hard sense of the whole warm and fuzzy field of HR. Keen to pass on their newfound knowledge, HR often ends up just reinforcing the stereotype among already cynical managers and executives that it fails to understand the business in real business terms.

HR is a rapidly evolving field, and as the story on the left notes, needs smart, business savvy professionals who are distinctively articulate communicators. There’s no room for jargon in this style of communication. CEOs and senior executives want to cut to the chase and skip the waffle. The ability to talk their language is an important part of showing that HR understands their issues – an important step in gaining entrée to their world.

We dug up a few HR jargon terms and did a snap poll of some employees and managers on what they thought the terms meant. Here’s a sample of results:

Value proposition: How much is the ring really worth before you give it to her.

Goal sharing: Inviting your mates around to watch the footy from the boss’ corporate box.

Knowledge management: Listening to all staff’s ideas then when confronted by the MD, claim the best one to be your own while belittling the others.

Staff tracking: Getting an electronic tag on your employees ankles so you know where they are 24/7.