Friday, September 12, 2008

On the semantics of corporate blabla

One of the most annoying terminologies in Strategic Management blabla I find the words “core activities”. They’re the most easiest and flimsiest of excuses to do or not do something, without having to provide any logical rationale why.

“They are losing money because they are not focusing on their core activities”. Come on, cut the BS; why are you calling certain activities “non core” anyway? Yep, because they’re not making any money. That’s makes it a bit of tautology, doesn’t it? Had they been hugely profitable I am sure these activities would not be regarded so “non-core” after all.

“We decided to divest businesses X and Y because they weren’t our core activities”. Get real; you’re probably divesting them because they’re not making you any money (and therefore you call them “non-core”). And even if you did have some other reason for wanting to get rid of them – whether the reason is any good or not – the hollow “explanation” (“because they are not core”) tells us as much as doodly-squat.

If you give me a good logical explanation why certain activities or products do not mix, or at least do not give any advantage in terms of combining them in one organisation, I am with you, but the label “core” or “not core” itself doesn’t say a darn thing at all.

Often, fluffy terminologies seem to be used, making far-reaching strategic decisions, to provide some sense of semi-security by means of an apparent logic which in reality is nothing more than a semantic construction.

“Capabilities”; what are they anyway? Stuff you’re good at? “We have to build the capabilities necessary to execute our vision”. What do you mean: You have to become better at it in order to become good...?

But the most annoying discussion in management speak I find the long-standing debate on what are “capabilities” and what are “competencies”. Let me solve this debate for you: They are words!! And words mean what we say they mean. These things are not some objective reality, to be discovered through careful corporate archeology or so (“we have dug up some capabilities and some competencies, analysed them in a CT scanner and applied CO2 analysis and now have conclusive evidence that they are different things”). If you can tell me why it is necessary or at least useful to make a distinction between two different concepts – one which we can call “capabilities”; the other one we’ll name “competencies” (or “zoggers and zaggers”, “dinkies and donkies”; whatever), I am with you, but without such an explanation of why the distinction is useful, I cannot be interested in debating the semantics of some random words that happened to find their way into our business vocabulaire.

So leave me alone and go annoy someone else with your corporate word games.