The Nuance of C-Suite Vocabulary
I have just become the leader of our hospitalist group and had the most amazing meeting with the hospital administrators. They seem to be speaking English, but I didn’t understand a thing. Can you help?
—B.N.L., Bellingham, Wash.
Dr. Hospitalist responds:
Ah, congrats on your first exposure to corporate jargon—otherwise known as admino-babble. Having survived numerous boardroom encounters with members of the corporate tribe to which you refer, I am, sad to say, now fluent in this most obtuse way of communicating. Herewith, a glossary that is gloriously non-alphabetical. Please note, I have heard all of these terms in person; this is not just some list I parroted off the Web:
Circle back: We don’t have any answers, but this meeting has gone on too long, so let’s talk about it next time.
Close the loop: Finish what you were thinking.
Failure of messaging: Things did not get explained very well. Formerly known as: It’s not you, it’s me.
Low-hanging fruit: The easy victories. Otherwise known as the stuff you already did for the hospital but never thought to get contractually paid for.
Value-add: Something that adds value. Hmm.
Corner case: An argument for something that isn’t likely to happen anyway. Otherwise known as “a long run for a short slide.”
Ping me offline: Send me an email/text after the meeting. LOL.
Straw man: An example that is thrown together just for the sake of discussion, and is not expected to stand up to scrutiny. Cousin to “laying down a marker.”
Cascading failures: Major, major problems. Example: “Our census just increased 50%, which means we don’t have time to get the discharges done, which means the census will stay high, which means ... ”
Granularity: The details.
Drill down: No, thanks, I just got granularity on that.
Deep dive: How cool is this? We now have three ways of saying the same thing.
Brand refresh: Marketing-speak for “The CEO doesn’t like our logo.”
Bandwidth: The capacity to take on more work. Old saying: “Yeah, I can do that.”
Contextualize: To add meaning to a discussion. (Is this actually a word?)
Deliverable: Those things in the contract that you said you would do, only now in writing.
Open the kimono: Umm, I’m afraid to say anything here. Use the Internet at your peril.
Visibility: The ability to not only recognize a problem, but understand it as well. “We don’t have visibility on that process.”
SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats—a way to characterize the current state of your hospitalist group.
30,000-foot view: Opposite of granular. The view the upper management likes to have. Apparently it’s not enough, because there is now even a “50,000-foot view.”
Win-win: Where everybody is happy. Somehow used often in negotiations, when in actuality the hallmark of a good negotiation is that both sides think they could have gotten a little bit more.
Deck, or slide deck: One of those interminable PowerPoint presentations.
Elevator test: An idea or concept that can be explained to someone important during the course of a brief elevator ride.
Pushback: Disagreement. “We’re likely to get some pushback from the ED docs if you want them to write admission orders.”
Right-size the organization: Everybody is going to get fired. Update your resume.
Off-path: When things aren’t going your way.
Off-budget: For you, it means losing money; for them, it just means not making enough.
Opportunities and synergies: Things that might happen but rarely do.
Boil the ocean: Do the impossible. “Let’s not try to boil the ocean here, maybe just harvest the low-hanging fruit.”
Amazingly, there are many more terms available. Please do remember all this in your new role. And here’s one more definition for good measure:
The consultant: Someone who takes a subject you understand and makes it sound confusing, and for these efforts is paid fantastically well.
Best of luck out there!