When I went in for my job at Chiat, they had a look at my work. We talked a lot about MINI and other car brands that I’ve worked on. We talked about Nissan and the future and where the brand could go next. We discussed the trials and tribulations of managing a large group of people.
So I pretty much felt like we’d covered all the skills that I’d need to become a CD on the account. But there was one thing they didn’t ask me about, a skill so integral, I can’t believe no one quizzed me.
I cannot speak Boardroomese.
I was laboring under the false belief that English was the first language of business in America. But how wrong I was. Which I discovered in my first meeting.
It started out well enough. Met a few folks, chatted about where I’d been before, made a little small talk, cracked a few jokes.
Then somebody said, “Ok, let’s get this meeting underway…” and everything after that was in German. Or Swahili. I really have no idea, it was all Greek to me.
There is a whole dialect spoken in boardrooms that you literally will never hear outside the walls of a building in Corporate America.
Snippets of that first conversation:
“… efforting to bring that to light…”
“ … circumvent expectations…”
“ … go for some blue sky thinking…”
“ … socializing that thought…”
I stared slightly sweatily into the ring of faces around me as they all chatted fluently away in this strange tongue that used English words, but was nothing like English. I was attempting to translate but was alway a good few Boardroomese phrases behind.
Then you hit the initialization speed bumps. KPI, ROI, KIV, RFP, QNR… c’mon, WTF? Lips in the room all keep moving while I ponder the meaning of these strange clumpings of vowels and consonants. KJD, um, ok…. Keep Just Doing? Key Junctions of Debate? Know Judo Dummy? Oh hang on, those are my initials.
I would have given anything just for an acronym.
So instead, I smiled and nodded my head politely, occasionally throwing in an, “uh-huh” and, “right” so that my new co-workers would think I had at least some semblance of comprehension of their conversation.
But there was nothing normal about this at all. Can you imagine a trip to the supermarket? “These red apples are on my radar. I’ve been KIV on these for months, they are very brand centric for us,” or, “Operationalizing these leeks is key to our overall soup strategy, with a halo effect over the entrees,” or even, “Identifying and incorporating this merlot into our outward facing communications efforts will show that we have an edge whilst honoring our core pillars.”
Then, as abruptly as this meeting began, it came to a close and everyone returned back to something that I could understand again, “Where do you sit? Have you got your business cards yet? We should go to that lunch place on Washington.”
Everyone else is down with the program, I thought, so I’d better get there too. But much to my despair, there was no Rosetta Stone or Berlitz for Boardroomese, so I just had to immerse myself with the locals and learn it native speaker style.
But if someone wants to make a Boardroomese Translator App, I’m your biggest backer.
Send me an RFP on it ASAP.