How a killjoy corporate lawyer ruins copy

You’ve crafted a cogent, concise statement about your company. It’s ready to go—until, of course, you get ‘help’ from other departments. Hang on tight; this will NOT be pretty.

Have you noticed how so much business English is written in a bizarrely evasive style? It’s as if it’s been picked over and eviscerated by legal and a host of other paranoid “key stakeholders” (as they no doubt like to be called) before publication.

Nowhere is this timorous tone of voice more obvious than in those lists of corporate values that companies feel they have to compile (presumably because everyone else does).

I recently stumbled across a set of corporate values that had the hallmarks of such writing by committee all over it. Here’s how I imagine it happened:

To: Killjoy corporate lawyer, paranoid PR person, anxious investor relations guy, HR have-a-say, and apprehensive internal communicator

Subject: Seven Pillars of Excellence

Dear all,

Our external branding agency has advised us to get some corporate values. So after extensive consultation with the Executive Board, I have come up with the following “Seven Pillars of Excellence” (branding agency’s term) to which all 63,000 of our diverse employees subscribe:

Please let me know if you’re happy with these. As soon as I get your sign-off, internal comms can inform our 63,000 diverse employees around the globe what their new values are.

Many thanks

Hapless copywriter

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