David Morton bandies about his favourite business catch words.
Yesterday they managed by objectives, today they spend their time going round in quality circles. The question that everyone wants answered is what are Britain's top executives going to be up to next?
Tomorrow morning the answer to this question will almost certainly be "empowerment". It is one of those wonderful words that flies in from the States and, although suffering from jet lag and culture shock, gets right down to business. "You've got problems," says the bright boy from abroad, "and I've got the solutions - your employees. Your employees are the only people with the capability to fix your problems, so why not give them the authority to get on with the job?" And so the morning memo goes out that employees are to be "empowered".
But what about tomorrow afternoon, when a couple of British beers have hit the system and suddenly the early energy, drive and promise that are synonymous with "empowerment" begin to fade and lose their thrall. By tomorrow afternoon Britain's top executives are quite likely to find themselves thinking about other foreign notions, such as hatinafsi, mokita, biga peula and farpotshket. Although unfamiliar words as yet, each conveys an idea whose time has almost come.
Hatinafsi is a Swahili word used "of a person taking an action without consulting anybody because he thinks they may try to persuade him not to do it". Although they do not (yet) call it hatinafsi, most chief executives already spend a good deal of their time worrying about employees who are taking action without consulting them because they know that they shouldn't really be doing it.
It was hatinafsi, and the excess zeal of some of Lord King's merry band of marketing men that resulted in British Airways" disastrous dirty tricks campaign against Virgin Atlantic which landed the world's favourite airline with just about the world's worst publicity. And it was hatinafsi, as much as greed, which dragged the reputations of the City's brightest and best through the scandals of recent years. Of course hatinafsi would not be a problem in companies where management/employee communications are frank and open, and everybody understands the need for absolute integrity in business conduct in order to realise the wider goals of the company. Which brings us to mokita and biga peula.
Mokita and biga peula are words used by the Kiriwina tribe who live happy and harmonious lives in the Trobriand Islands off New Guinea. The Kiriwina believe that people can live together in peace only if nobody discusses what everybody knows about certain sensitive matters. Mokita is the Kiriwan name for "a truth that everybody knows but nobody speaks". Biga Peula means "direct references to certain unspoken truths likely to lead to social disruption".
If you are a Kiriwina and you say a biga peula you can easily find yourself faced with a challenge to mortal combat. Biga peulas are irrevocable, and the only alternative to a fight to the death is an even more embarassing biritilulo, a ritualised public comparison of the yam collections of the parties involved in the biga peula.
Most British managers know that their organisations live by mokita. Sir John Harvey-Jones made himself a household name due to his penchant for saying biga peulas, and Lord King now knows that Richard Branson is a past master at the ritualised comparison of yam collections.
Which leaves us with farpotshket, a useful Yiddish word referring to "something that's all fouled up as the direct result of attempts to fix it". Or, as they say in the works canteen, if there is one thing more frightful, feculent - and probably fatal - than a big bad problem it is a big bad solution.
Attrit: To cut back the payroll gradually by not replacing departing employees.
Ballistic: Unguided weapon. The explosive charge is merely aimed and fired. An executive "goes ballistic" when he/she explodes and turns irrational in unguided mode. Take cover.
Bimbo: A Buy-In Management Buyout. Takeover of a company by the combined forces of outside managers "buying in" and existing managers "buying out".
Centrachy: An organisation that places the leader in the centre not at the top.
So far limited to the US.
Dead Cat Bounce: Brief recovery in an economic trend line after a steep fall. (Anything will bounce if dropped from a great enough height.) Deal Heat: The influence of pressure in negotiation. Beware, the imminence of a deal can distort your judgment.
Decruit: Opposite of "recruit". If you are "decruited" you are out of a job, but your superiors feel alot better for not having fired you.
Explode: To open up a budget in cutaway form to show its workings in greater detail. Don't be alarmed if the finance director says, "Let me explode this project for you."
500-Pound Gorilla: The dominant threat to your business. The figurative gorilla is always waiting to pounce on you.
FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. An acronym for dirty tricks in competitive markets. You have been fudded if your competitor is spreading unpleasant rumours about your safety standards or financial soundness.
Globasm: Compulsive international expansion to achieve instant gratification. The euphoria is often short-lived.
Honcho: A tough boss. In spite of its Mexican ring the word comes from Japan. From hancho, the leader of a small group.
Lightning Rod: A position or person easily blamed for most things that go wrong. Certain dangerous jobs near the top are lightning rods intentionally created to protect the chairman.
Locking Diaries: Real men don't pencil in appointments, they lock diaries.
Lombard: Acronym for wealthy simpleton - Lots Of Money But A Real Dodo.
Pavarotti Manager: An executive so heavily committed that he/she cannot see you for three years - approximately the forward booking lag of Italy's famous tenor.
PCN: Parent company national flag. PCNs have a strong career advantage: they went to the same schools, use the same references and have the same mother tongue. Bad news for ambitious foreigners.