11 corporate terms and what they mean to communicators

Jargon can mean different things to different people, depending on their roles. Here’s what communicators need to know about a few common terms.

I once worked for a company where the HR department insisted that we use the term “full-time equivalents” instead of “employees” or “staff.” They’d say, “Our full-time equivalents are our most valuable asset.”

To HR staff, the term “full-time equivalents” has a specific meaning, so that’s why they use it. To corporate communicators, “full-time equivalents” is just another dehumanizing HR term that we advise HR staff not to use.javascript:void(0); (Same with “human assets” or “human capital.”)

Below is list of other such corporate terms and what they mean to communicators. How many of these do you recognize?

Bifurcate: The term HR teams use when they are going to split a large department into two smaller departments, or split your job into two jobs.

Cascade: Communication from members higher in the organization (managers, vice presidents) to members lower in the organizational hierarchy. Many communicators cringe when they learn a message will be “cascaded” instead of sent directly. A cascaded message typically stalls at the management level and rarely makes it to the intended recipients.

Change agent: A person who claims to be a catalyst for improvement or for the adoption of something new. Corporate communicators are often seen as “change agents” and may reluctantly take on that role.

Core competencies: A specific set of skills that deliver additional value to your client or your employer. To put it succinctly, what you’re good at. This term can also be used to prevent scope creep on a project: “Taking photos of executives is not really one of our core competencies.”

Escalate: Telling someone who is higher up than you that something bad has happened or is about to happen.

Fail fast: A system designed to quickly report a failure or possible failure and to stop normal operation rather than attempt to continue a possibly flawed process. In communications, we often know that a project will fail fast, so we avoid putting too much work into it.

Gatekeeper: An individual who controls the flow of information to a group of people. This is the person you need to finesse or go around to get your message out.

Help desk: Where all requests for help from the IT department are sent. Whether the request is urgent (the website is down) or if the request is easy (I need the internal IP address), we are invariably and reflexively told “send that to the help desk.” Two days later, the request is routed to the IT person you asked in the first place.

Silo: A wall or boundary put up by an organization to keep a group focused on its goals, and keep outsiders from interfering. This word also describes why people who work in the same department, on the same floor, or in the same company don’t communicate with each other. They work in silos.

Stakeholders: The people with whom you must collaborate, or your project will not succeed. Stakeholders are typically ignored in any project led by the IT department.

Subject matter expert: Someone you’re asking to write content for you.

Corporate communicators, do you have any other terms to add to this list?

Laura Hale Brockway is medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.

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