By Chuck Violand

May 12, 2014

Not long ago, one of my son’s friends told me he had gotten a job at a local golf course as a “turf maintenance engineer.” I told him the job sounded impressive and asked what kind of work he’d be doing. He proudly replied that he would be grooming hazards, recalibrating ground cover, and managing horticultural anomalies. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we used to call these guys grounds keepers, and they raked sand traps, mowed lawns, and pulled weeds. I figured he’d learn this soon enough on his own.

The conversation confirmed my sneaking suspicion that Beta Talk is still alive and well in the world of business. I define Beta Talk as using words in conversation that soften the impact of what’s really being said, sometimes to the point of entirely obscuring the intended message. It’s the flip side of Alpha Talk, where people say what they mean. Some view Alpha Talk as too direct or harsh for today’s workplace, but as I’ve stated before, I feel people deserve the honesty that Alpha Talk provides.

Another example of Beta Talk is the term “succession event.” Most of us are familiar with the term succession planning, used in business to describe an orchestrated strategy to strengthen the competence of key people within a company. Sometimes this strategy is used to groom a replacement for a departing or retiring CEO or to develop competence in key people as a way to deepen a company’s bench strength.

A succession plan takes place over an extended period of time and usually has a positive conclusion. A succession event is a moment in time and results in someone (usually the CEO) being personally escorted to the front door.

A succession event is just one example of Beta Talk used to describe firing someone. The whole notion of having to fire people is so unsavory that we’ve developed an entire vocabulary around it. We “redeploy” or “deselect” or “de-hire” them. It doesn’t matter how much lipstick you put on this pig; at the end of the day, someone still ends up without a job!

When we find ourselves avoiding real work like generating revenue, deepening profits, or speeding up cash flow, we may tell people we’re “weighing the pig” to justify our time. Why don’t we just say we’re wasting time over-analyzing our markets, prospective customers, and growth potential?

One of my favorites is “disinformation.” Disinformation?! When I was a child my mother used to address my disinformation with soap in my mouth. I don’t believe she was familiar with the term disinformation, but she sure knew how to handle lying!

Not all Beta talk is soft or ambiguous. Sometimes it’s just a term that has multiple meanings. Take “404” for example. I had no idea what that term meant when I overheard someone using it in a conversation. When I asked, I was told it meant someone who was clueless and comes from the web error message “404-URL Not Found,” meaning the requested web page could not be located. Since I didn’t hear the first part of their conversation, I got a little nervous, not knowing if I was hearing the early stages of a planned succession event. Not wanting to take any chances, I’m thinking I may need to do some deselecting of my own.