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Decoding CEO-speak

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“Our achievements in 2002 have driven [our company] to a tangible inflection point where success fostered more definition and clarity.”

— A genomics industry CEO, quoted on the cover of the company’s 2002 annual report

Speaking of clarity, ever wish you could get your hands on a CEO-speak translator? Deloitte Consulting in June unveiled a product that should offer some help not just to those of us trying to decode corporate messages, but to companies guilty of generating mumbo jumbo. Bullfighter is free software that aims to eradicate jargon and “unnecessarily complex language” (a.k.a. nonsense) from business documents.

“We''ve had it with repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leveragable mindshare. Enough, already,” says Brian Fugere, partner at Deloitte Consulting. “If Corporate America wants to restore public trust, we need to start speaking and writing more clearly. Less empty rhetoric about openness, honesty, and accountability, and more straight talk.”

Once installed, the Bullfighter toolbar appears in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, and works like a spelling checker. The software scans documents for egregious bull, flogs the author for trying to use those words, suggests replacements, and then assigns a Bull Composite score.

Besides just avoiding looking silly, there’s another advantage to eliminating nonsense from your corporate communications. When Deloitte screened communications from a range of Dow Jones companies, it found that straight-talking companies outperform companies that use vague, unclear communications. Deloitte charges the computer hardware and software segments with being the biggest jargon users, and suggests that the presence of “bull” in corporate documents provides an early warning sign of financial trouble. A review of Enron''s communications during the last three years indicates that, when performance began to sink, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences, the consultancy says.

That news doesn’t bode well for at least one genomics company. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being “the clearest and most bull-free,” the Bullfighter gave the quote above a Bull Composite score of 3.7.

Bullfighter can be downloaded for free at www.dc.com/bullfighter.

— Adrienne J. Burke

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