Sometimes our friends across the pond are almost as crazy as we are.
British bureaucrats have been warned: no more synergies, stakeholders or sustainable communities. The body that represents the country’s local authorities has told its members to stop using management buzzwords, saying they confuse people and prevent residents from understanding what local governments do.
What other kinds of words are we talking about?
The Local Government Association, whose members include hundreds of district, town and county councils in England and Wales, on Friday sent out a list of 100 "non-words" that it said officials should avoid if they want to be understood.
The list includes the popular but vague term "empowerment;" "coterminosity," a situation in which two organizations oversee the same geographical area; and "synergies," combinations in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Officials were told to ditch the term "revenue stream" for income, as well as the imprecise "sustainable communities." The association also said councils should stop referring to local residents as "customers" or "stakeholders."
I, too, dislike terms like "synergy" and I can’t claim I’ve ever used "coterminosity" but I do believe some "buzzwords" are not really buzzwords. "Customer" for example.
The word "customer" immediately creates a frame of reference and a hierarchy. Perhaps it’s just because I’m steeped in the lean manufacturing world, but the term tells me who defines my ultimate value. "Resident" doesn’t. Government would be wise to start thinking of residents as customers.
As with most wild ideas, this one is also spinning out of control.
The association sent its letter after reports that one town council had told staff to use the term "thought showers" instead of "brainstorming."
Officials at Tunbridge Wells council in southern England felt brainstorming might offend people with epilepsy, a condition that involves periodic electrical storms inside the brain. However, the National Society for Epilepsy said it had surveyed its members and they did not find the term offensive.
Anyone up for a thought shower?
I’m not a customer – i’m a tax payer and therefore i’d rather be considered to be their boss rather than someone to be marketed to.
A Clear Blue Sky says
I agree that calling the word customer a buzz-word and banning it is not wise. However, it doesn’t precisely describe the role of citizens in the processes of public services. Not only is the citizen mostly not paying directly for the service, nor has he (or she) the posibility to ‘shop’ somewhere else. And through the right to vote, it is a customer with limited and indirect special abilities.
If you take this in mind, I think when redesigning processes in public services, it is okay to use the term customers, but it is something else to use it in communication to the citizens. I think it would help to not use jargon then.
Residents should be thought of more as the owners of government that its customers. If the metaphor of government as business is to be used, then government must be seen as a monopoly. I’d much rather be the owner of the monopoly than its customer.
A Clear Blue Sky says
Why Public Services use terms as customer for citizens, is because in some processes (actually, most) the citizens are the ones that the service is directed to. Paying tax does not give extra leverage.
And yes, government services are often a monopoly, but with very strict rules and guiding principles.
david foster says
This kind of thing…the attempt to control the exact words used by one’s employees…is really a form of verbal Taylorism.