Staff Communication: Beguiled By The Guruspeak Gambit?


Ever noticed how gurus speak a special language? I call this language the “guruspeak gambit“. Take care in staff communication. Don’t let it beguile you.

Grasping The Gambit

Gurus seem to love to use management jargon. “Quality”, “Productivity”, “Morale”, “Customer Service”, “Attitude”, “Creativity”, “Personality” and “Professionalism” are just a few of their favourite words. Hardly anyone ever asks what they mean. Who’d dare challenge the gurus?

A Massive Management Temptation

Here’s the problem. In staff communication we all like to sound as if we know what we’re talking about. And if management jargon’s good for the gurus, it’s good for us too.

Don’t believe that for a moment. Don’t succumb to the temptation.

The Problem

It’s simple. We slip into the gurus’ jargon cloak. We start mouthing the same jargon. We assume that our employees know what we mean. They don’t want to seem ignorant. Staff don’t ask, “What do you mean by quality?” for the same reasons that we don’t ask the guru what he or she means. After all, we’re managers. We know. In fact, “everyone knows that.”

The Result

Misunderstanding is the result. If a manager talks about “productivity” as being “poor quality” there must be an absolutely crystal clear understanding of what those words mean. Both managers and employees must not only know what the words mean. They must agree on the meaning.

The Consequence

Confusion is the consequence. Saying, “They know what I mean” or “I’ve told them a million times“, confuses the issue. It doesn’t matter what you say. The purpose of communication is to convey meaning. If the meaning isn’t absolutely clear to all concerned, the communication has failed.

The Solution

  1. Stop using guruspeak with or to your people
  2. Seek clarity. Ask, “What did you mean by ….” And encourage your staff to do the same.
  3. Focus on performance. Set clear, measurable performance standards. Concentrate on describing whether and how well the standards are reached.
  4. When you fail to meet the performance standards look first at your systems not at your people, “If your systems are poor, your people will fail” isn’t a slogan. It’s a reality.

An Exercise For You

Write down what you mean when you use each of the following words

  • Quality
  • Productivity
  • Customer service
  • Morale
  • Attitude
  • Creativity
  • Personality

Don’t try to write a “dictionary definition” Simply write down what you mean in terms that others can understand and measure.

The Meaning Mangle

The purpose of communication is to convey meaning. Words are the vehicles we use. But the words must mean the same to both speaker and listener, writer and reader. Consider this. If you’re idea of an excellent meal is a Big Mac, Fries and an Apple Crumble with a Diet Coke, that’ll represent quality to you. But if your idea of an excellent meal is haute cuisine with all the French gourmet trimmings, you and the Big Mac lover won’t agree about a “quality meal”.

The Customer Service Conundrum

How do you recognize “good customer service”? The answer is that only the customer can judge. A retailer may provide what he or she believes to be “outstanding” customer service. But if the customer believes it’s poor … then it’s poor. That’s the reality.

The Productivity Comparison

What is “productivity”? How is it measured? What is it measured against? Years ago I worked for a mining and refining company that had massive and costly labour turnover. But management wouldn’t act because measured as a percentage of the workforce the turnover was “within the national average”. The “national average for the industry” was the benchmark. Fortunately we were able to present the turnover figures in terms of nett cost to the company. Management took action immediately. The “national average” was a false benchmark.

The Harsh Reality

Labels and jargon are of no value to anyone, particularly to you and your employees. In extreme cases, they mislead all concerned. “Morale is low”, “morale is high” are merely statements reflecting the speaker’s judgement. The statements are emotional and judgemental. And they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.


Measure, measure, measure. Avoid labels and management guruspeak in staff communication. To discuss performance, attitude, quality on any of the issues, I mentioned earlier, discuss them in measurable terms. These terms must be easy to understand for employees. The guruspeak gambit is beguiling. It’s also very misleading. You’re seeking superior staff performance. Performance is about doing: not about talking.

What To Do Now

Complete the definitions mentioned under “an exercise for you”. Discuss your answers with your employees. Gain their input. Settle the differences. Leave your comments below. And resolve to avoid the guruspeak gambit forever.

Please remember to click on the “Resources” tab in the navigation bar to find other resources to help you improve on job staff performance.

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