Monday, April 13, 2015

Words of Importance - Downsizing

The importance of jargon, in any science or social science, is normally to serve as a shorthand for concepts that would consume too many words to put across. In the nature of things, jargon also comes in handy to make things palatable - nay, scientific, logical and even inevitable - when saying it in common words could raise a storm of protest and vilification. As far as I know, there is no area of human endeavor that mostly uses jargon for the latter purpose - or, merely, to make things sound more important than they really are - as management.

If one were to start hunting for jargon of this sort, one need not go far beyond 'down-sizing' for an example. The simplest set of words for 'down-sizing' would be 'chucking out employees' and, you will certainly agree, that the latter does not sound very palatable, leave alone half as important. The HR guy, who is handed out the job, would probably feel like the public hangman if he had to say that he was 'chucking out employees'. Why, his family may hold their noses and step aside when he came by. On the other hand, he can say that he is busy with 'down-sizing' and everyone will be proud of how he is contributing to the company's efficiency.

What, then of the top management? Could they really say, "We made a mistake in assessing our employee requirement and every mistake has to be paid for. So, now, you will have to pay for our mistakes"? Easier by far to say, "In the interests of more efficient performance, we are down-sizing the company." Even better if you can pay a chunk of the scarce money that you have to get a management consultant to say so. It is always easier when you get an outsider for a hangman.

What, then, if the top management has changed and NOW they are 'down-sizing'? Well, really, you are pretty naive if you expect this lot of guys to say, "My incentive depends on improving the performance of this company. It is easier for me to do it by reducing the salary bill, than by increasing the scale of performance of the company to utilize its employees optimally." Naturally, 'down-sizing' comes in handy, indeed.

Then, of course, if someone takes this company over, he is not likely to say, "The other guys made the mistake of over-staffing this place. Why should I carry the can for it?" You guessed it - downsizing.

This word, though, is one of the few that has got caught in the political correctness thing that plagues a lot of words. It has acquired such unsavory connotations that people have had to invent a more politically correct term for it - "Right-sizing". Like all those politically correct terms, it is only the bottle that is new. The wine is the same old, same old.

Some time soon, someone is going to catch on to the fact that saying "Right-sizing" would automatically mean that the organization was 'wrong-sized' before and THAT would directly mean that the management was wrong - not a very palatable thing if it is the same management doing the 'right-sizing'. Soon, they will be inventing another term for it.

Or, have they already?

14 comments:

  1. O yes, when the cocktail of jargon and political correctness can be quite interesting (to put it very politely)!. The word 'right-sizing' sounds so reasonable, so efficient and responsible that why would anyone object to losing his/her job in the larger interest of the organisation. Such a noble sacrifice to make indeed :) Such interesting times we live in, no? Your post reminded me of a highly enjoyable film with George Clooney - Up in the Air. The fascinating life of a 'right-sizer'.

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    1. Have not seen the movie - should some time soon, since Mahesh has also mentioned it in the context of this post on FB.

      I have always been struck by the essential unfairness of this 'down-sizing' thing. Sometimes it does become necessary and without alternative; sometimes it is merely because the management just does not have the acumen to find alternatives; but, most of the times, it is normally the fault of the top management that the organization gets over-staffed and the ax seems to invariably fall on those who had the least to do with making that mistake. Truly, Life IS unfair, but I find it difficult to digest that we just brush this off with the same saying when it is men who made this unfair system :)

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  2. Valid point. Why were you over sized now that you need to down size? Shouldn't you have been the right size all along.
    Ha ha, good one.

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    1. Thanks, Alka! Men make mistakes, sometimes circumstances overwhelm them but, by God, they can never admit mistakes OR admit that they are not prescient :)

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  3. This very interesting read and all are valid point....

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  4. Very well said Suresh. Companies don't know if they are right-sized or not! Great Read :)

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  5. Actually they are, Suresh. We call it rationalization or Man power optimization. When salaries or head count is rationalized, it is interesting how it goes only in one direction - down. Still we give a neutral term as if we expect it go up or down.

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