Mark Washburn

What the bosses really mean when they mention streamlining, legacy assets

All rise. It is time again for commandments from Lingo.

Surely you remember Lingo, our minor deity of speech. Lingo sayeth unto me, and I unto you. I am Lingo’s mouthpiece, his earthly emissary, his unbearded Moses.

Lingo has been listening, sort of like a reverse Santa, and is unpleased. While Lingo’s wrath is usually directed at the vast peasantry, his latest edicts are directed at the ruling class of commerce.

In the boardrooms of this city, Lingo says, language is being bent in objectionable ways.

Lingo growls at such constructions as “streamlining,” “repositioning” and “restructuring.” He is strong in the conviction that such modifications in the modern workplace can be more efficiently described as “firing the guy next to you and making you do his work.”

Lingo overheard pooh-bahs at a major financial institution fretting about the burden of certain “legacy assets.” Hereafter, Lingo demands, they may be merely called “toxic stuff bought by the former CEO.”

To appease the investor class, Lingo has learned, it is sometimes expedient to identify a random herd of workers and inflict upon them a permanent “furlough.”

Lingo bristles at soft words for hard strategies. Refer to them henceforth, Lingo orders, as “mass firings to make our quarterly numbers.” Lingo notes that nobody’s fooling anybody by saying it otherwise.

Lingo was also disturbed by the casual characterizations by management that numerous wage-earners needed to be “sidewalked.” Lingo does not like cutesy. “Whacked” will do just fine, Lingo advises sternly.

When the conversation turned to disposal of certain executive talent, Lingo noted with arch disapproval that there was avid discussion of how best to “package them out.” Lingo knows an abomination when he hears one and that was exactly what he heard.

“Enrich them even more handsomely” is the technical term that Lingo recommends, and his tone is harsh as he spits out the words.

In a discussion about satisfying corporate debt, Lingo was annoyed to hear that the company had adequate “runway.”

Runways, thunders Lingo, are surfaces upon which aircraft sail and models strut. “Time” is the word the cutesy corporate captain meant – “time” to gin up enough cash through “whacking” to sate the titanic appetite of the money lenders.

Many of these linguistic acrobatics, Lingo came to realize, were the result of a “challenging revenue environment.” Grumpy Lingo became explosive at the very mention.

Just say, per a frothing Lingo, “We can’t figure out how to make enough money!”

What’s the worst that can happen by speaking frankly, Lingo demands to know, then answers it himself.

Getting “packaged out”?