As a department manager at one of America’s great corporations, I got to attend the weekly staff meetings of our unit’s Director. The staff included some of the best minds in the company, people with great leadership potential. Of course, there were also a few imposters like myself.
Most people complain about meetings, but I saw these as an opportunity to learn. Whenever I heard something interesting I would write it down. I present a few of the more interesting locutions here.
The Director was a vigorous guy in his late fifties who liked to lift weights in the morning before work. He ran extra laps before his annual physical to get better numbers on the heart monitor. This positivity led to an enthusiasm for improbable business opportunities and, in discussions of strategy, to the frequent use of sports analogies.
- Let’s play it one ear at a time.
- You can’t just bite the first bullet that comes by.
- You can’t just email: you have to talk to people manually.
- Some things really get your wheels thinking.
- The storm clouds don’t always clear at the end of the tunnel
- Keep me up to breast on that.
The Director’s admin attended the meetings to take minutes. She started things off by reading those from the previous week and to discussing corrections. She once came in and told us that the boss was not available, he was disposed of.
- The rest of the minutes is the same every week. It’s a lot of duplicity.
- He’s being Hippocratic when he says that because he does it too.
- Do you get the jest of what I’m saying?
- It always ceases to amaze me.
We had a one-man mergers group, and the Director loved to discuss his interactions with other companies. He lived in a make-believe world where the company might actually invest in one of these deals. The M&A guy was always very fervent in presenting these opportunities. He liked to talk about mission-critical objectives. The Director would say something about fourth down.
- If you have a gold mine, you should fly with it.
- Their assets are broader than first blush might offer.
- I’ll ask what they want in the way of retribution.
- A deal should be win-win for us, if not for them.
- By then it will be a mute point
The Marketing Department
There were always a lot of marketing guys at these meetings. Each one was responsible for a product line, and they would talk about what they were doing to sell it. The Director was an ex-salesman and he would make suggestions. The marketing guys would tell him they were good ideas and write them down. Then everyone would look happy for a minute.
- Always look at both ends of the coin.
- Don’t put the chicken before the cart.
- I think there’s a flaw in the ointment
- Sunk costs are water under the river
- We’ll launch an ad campaign as a peremptory strike.
- They’re notoriously famous for that
- Don’t reveal anything that might tip our hat to the competition
Development was headed up by a succession of interchangeable engineers who wore cotton shirts and khaki pants. We always had one or two major projects under way, and they were always on schedule until they were not, at which point they were suddenly 5 months behind. This was the result of a succession of interchangeable engineers telling their bosses whatever they wanted to hear.
- The marketing concept has to be flushed out with more detail.
- It’s an estimate based on a back-of-the-pencil calculation.
- A modular product is compromised of subunits.
- This valve lets the vacuum out.
- This guy has a photogenic memory
- Project costs are calculated imperially.
- We use a process of trial by error.
The finance guy was an accountant who felt audacious taking off his jacket. Standing in striped shirt, tie, and pants, he would describe preparations for the next audit. He kept stashing money in various contingency accounts so that he could “find” more profits at the end of each quarter, enabling the Director to make his bonus. This maneuver earned him a hefty bonus of his own.
- We need to recuperate those losses
- We’re ready, at least superfluously
- Those requests are far and few between
- The claim was denied, and righteously so
- B2B means Business to Business, it’s an anachronism.
- We will leave no hole unturned.
Every week, the factory manager reported on the number of units made for each product. He had a lot of detailed spreadsheets, and he always complained about last minute, rush orders. Then he sat down and went to sleep. He seemed to be awake, but when I sat next to him I could hear him snore.
- Trying to solve two birds with one stone.
- They have to run between two gauntlets
- This group is between the horns of a dilemma
- That’s one of our weakest vulnerabilities
- This is where we are at this point of juncture
The HR manager was the kind of person who wanted you to know that he really meant everything he said. His brow was permanently furrowed with concern that you might not fully subscribe to his veracity, and he had a habit of repeating everything twice. He had a Ph.D. in education and earnestly wanted to be a general manager. Perhaps because of this, his comments were not limited to personnel, but touched upon everything from sales to distribution.
- That’s not a normal situation. It’s an abrogation
- It’ll happen not far in the distant future
- Every time he does that, it just exasperates the situation
- He was really chasing at the bit
- Now we’re all in the same shoe
- He’ll be coming here on a periodical basis
- I had to pour oil over ruffled feathers
- He always manages to land with his feet up