Introduction to Management

Fourth edition

by Richard Pettinger

Glossary of Terms in Common Usage

The following terms always require full explanation. Whenever you come across them, or whenever you think to use them, you should state what you mean by them, and what you think that the company or organisation or individual means by them, in the precise context in which they are being used.

It is essential that you gain your own ability to think critically and deeply about every set of circumstances with which you are faced during your management studies. Above all, you should never accept any of the following at face value, whoever is delivering them or making the assertions. In the overwhelming majority of cases, those who make these statements do so either to satisfy one stakeholder or constituent group, or because they do not have the expertise to go into the full detail that is actually required. This will help to develop an analytical, evaluative and judgmental capability at an early stage; and this is much more effective and ultimately expert than simply replicating what others say about themselves.

You should also think deeply yourself before using any of these terms. They are superficially attractive; however, they are as meaningless when you use them as they are when others use them if you do not define them precisely.

It additionally follows on from this that if you are not clear about anything at all in the field of business and management, you should always ask. If people are using any of the following terms, or similar, then it is likely that others will not understand or be quite clear about what is being discussed or proposed either.

Hitting the ground running: any paratrooper will tell you that this is highly dangerous and only ever to be contemplated in an emergency!!! Managers use the term usually to cover up for the fact that they know that something is needed quickly, but they are not quite sure what.

Impressive track record: all companies and organisations, and many individuals also, state this about themselves. You need to explain why you think it is impressive.

Record year/profits/turnover: you need to state why this is or was a record year, and what evidence there is that it was also successful. In particular it is essential to look at the conditions that led to the record, and whether or not these are capable of being sustained.

Double digit(eg: for profits and growth): 'double digit' means anything from 10 - 99. This statement is therefore meaningless and general unless it is pinned down much more precisely, and related to the particular circumstances of the market, organisation, product or service. The fact that this, and other equally vague statements, are widely used in the business and management media does not make them either right or appropriate - they need much fuller evaluation and definition.

Blandnesses - or not: look at statements produced by companies, organisations and managers, such as:

  • our staff are our most valuable asset
  • we are well placed to take advantage of opportunities
  • significant potential/significant opportunities/'significant' anything!
  • record and record breaking anything!
  • anything to do with cost savings that does not have full detail attached
  • anything to do with predictions of future product or service performance that does not have full projections and analyses attached

and see what evidence there is to support this point of view. It is very easy to get drawn into accepting such statements because they look positive; and this is not enough. If there is evidence, then the statements are supported and so are not blandnesses. If not, the statements are meaningless.

Anti Phrases: these phrases are either used out of ignorance, or else to cover up the fact or perception that the person speaking has nothing useful or valuable to say. Of particular concern are the following:

  • blue sky thinking
  • thinking outside the box
  • hitting the ground running (as above)
  • the helicopter view
  • revenue growth
  • significant growth (as above)

Anyone in any position of expertise ought to be able either to be more precise with their terminology; or they ought to use such phrases only by way of introducing what they are then going to go on and say in full detail. If the phrases are being used in order to hide something adversarial or controversial, then everyone in any real situation will in any case read them as such immediately.

Annual report statements: organisations produce annual reports because they have to by law; and the statements used in annual reports is not always precise or delivered in full detail. If using annual report statements from a managerial or management studies point of view, it is essential always to look for other evidence to back up the assertions being made. This is essential as a part of developing a critical and evaluative approach to information; it is also essential to realise that the information delivered in an annual report is being produced for other audiences. So it needs to be handled very carefully from a managerial point of view.

World class: any organisation that describes itself as world class must be recognised as such in all of the main commercial hubs of the world; and some would say that this should extend to everywhere (eg: Tahiti, the Marquesas, St Helena, as well as New York, London, Paris and Tokyo). The components of what makes someone or something world class - marketing, production, manufacturing or service delivery - also require precise definition in the given context.

Global Organisation: most organisations are not global, whatever they say about themselves. A regional office in Bangkok or a website does not give you a global reach. A global organisation has access or influence in all the markets of North America, the EU, and Japan; and increasingly, 'global' means having access and presence in China, Russia and the Middle East. It is essential therefore to look for evidence of one or more of:

  • global presence
  • global access
  • global influence
  • global standard setter

before accepting the statements about global organisations at face value.

The figures speak for themselves: they do not - they are printed symbols on a page!!! and require human, expert and managerial support, evaluation and judgement. You need to get at what you think that the figures are 'saying' and why.

Profit levels and especially profit percentages: many organisations use 'high' percentage levels of profit to justify the 'fact' that they have had a 'good' year. Each time an organisation uses this approach, look for evidence to justify the assertions about high levels of performance - the two do not always go together.

Market forces: this is a nebulous term that means nothing to anyone - unless you define which market forces you are talking about, or that you think are being talked about. The term is used by managers to avoid having to be precise; and if unchallenged, decisions are taken on a basis that nobody is quite clear about.

Synergies and economies of scale: everyone claims synergies and economies of scale - these are 'good things'!!!! You need to define what you mean by them in a given context and for a given organisation; and you need to be able to state what you think organisations and managers mean in precise detail when they use these and similar terms.

Ground breaking: this is usually not the case!!! If whatever is being described is genuinely ground breaking, there will be plenty of evidence; if not, the expression is again meaningless.

Sure fire winner: there is no such thing as a sure fire winner - otherwise everyone would simply learn the recipes and replicate them. People have succeeded in sectors that were deemed impossible (eg: low cost air travel); and people have failed in areas that were supposedly assured, glamorous, fashionable and revolutionary (eg: football; the internet). If the matter in question is indeed to be a sure fire winner, there will be full detail available. If not, then the particular proposal is being talked up for some reason, and you will need to get to the heart of this.

Other definitions: you need to have and be able to use your own precise definitions of the following. Each can be sourced from text books, and each needs full consideration, and not to be taken as read or taken on trust. Again, each needs relating in full detail to the particular set of circumstances, organisation, product, service or manager under consideration:

  • quality
  • excellence
  • strategy, policy and direction
  • ethics and ethical
  • organisation and group culture, values and attitudes
  • high and low standards
  • success and failure
  • pioneering, entrepreneurial
  • good and bad management and leadership
  • high class, top class and similar
  • expansion and growth
  • globalisation and internationalisation, as above

Richard Pettinger