Sorry – I’m gonna rant here. It’s been building for some time and this week was just, well, the last straw.
Granted, I’ve been cranky because things at work haven’t really stopped since just after Winter Break. Spring Break was filled with anxious colleagues setting up classes for a remote return, then… you know the story. And like many schools, we’re dealing with the fallout from the Black Lives Matter protests and how that has affected and galvanized our students, leading to a number of committees “doing the work” of DEI (or EDI, depending on where you are and what you’re emphasizing). This is not a complaint about the committees or the need for change, it’s a language complaint. Ok, it’s a language rant.
Years ago, before I went to graduate school for my MLS, I had a varied career. For a few years I took on long-term assignments, helping companies with a specific project. Despite the occasional financial terror, it was fun and the rewards could be quirky: food I’d prepared being shown on the Food Network, for example, or a private fireworks viewing party on the Fourth of July on Liberty Island. One of those jobs was with a company going through an interesting change: a merger and a dissolution.
There were originally two companies, one a nearly nationwide corporate consulting firm that specialized in Organizational Transformation and the other a small, three-office firm that did executive outplacement (where executives that were being fired, or who were retiring, got counseling about “what’s next” as a perk). The two companies merged, with the corporate base in Texas, but the base for the other company was in New York. My job was to help distribute the things needed for each of the three offices to run as separate units while also helping them integrate into the new corporate structure. With me so far? The New York office took on several members of the national team to help with the Transformation part.
What did that look like? Well, let’s say you were a large company with many divisions and you were closing one down (or seriously downsizing in all divisions, or had merged and had too many people, etc.). You might hire these consultants to help change the corporate culture, and you might also hire them to provide outplacement guidance on a larger, less personal scale. What they didn’t tell anyone was that one of the three original Texas partners had, at some point, attended either EST or it’s successor, the Landmark Forum, and then spread the good word to the other partners and executives and secretaries. And that’s where the fun starts.
No, they didn’t lock people into rooms for 12 hours with no food or bathroom breaks. But they did use “Forum speak” in their trainings. What’s that? Well… have you ever shared? Unpacked something? Are you complete in your conversations? Is the work authentic? What’s your story and how can you assist someone with their competencies? Are you empowered? Do you name things? All of that came, in some way, out of the Forum and into corporate lives via this company (IMVHO!). It’s like that old commercial, participants told two friends, and they told two friends, and pretty soon far too many people are using this language in the corporate world.
Back then, I’d shared an office with someone who was the three managing partner’s liaison to our office. My last day or so there, an invoice hadn’t gotten paid, and she was on the phone with the vendor, “naming” that she was embarrassed that there had been a “breakdown”, but she was “empowered” to “unpack” the situation and make sure they were “complete.”
That was in 1990. You’re welcome.