There is evidence to sustain that corporate jargon influences company culture.
I also believe that corporate jargon reflects the company culture; I will articulate this conclusion through an example: the ICT Channel.
This concept had a central place in the first half of my professional carrier (and I hope it will have also in the second part) and I will use it quite often in this blog.
If, like me, you think that company culture should be aligned with the company strategy and you work in the quality, you might wonder how quality can bring a contribution to this alignment.
The channel concept.. at school.
The first time I heard the concept ‘channel’ was during my high school (yes, we are talking about the early 80’s). I studied that the channel is the method used by a manufacture to deliver a product to the end user and to be paid for that (Fig. 1).
It that definition the channel is composed by a Wholesaler and by a Retailer. The Wholesaler purchases products from several manufactures. This function is performed by a dedicated function called purchases. He then sales (through a function called, guess what, sales) a combination of the stocked products to the Retailers getting from him the related payment. Finally, the Retailer sales the items to the end user.
In this simple model, the Manufacturer has a perfect knowledge of the needs of the end user and the function of the channel is just to manage the complexity of the delivery and of collecting the payment. This concept of channel is indeed very simple but it is still the backbone of the role of each wholesaler (and more recently retailer) for which I have been working for.
My first working experience with the ICT Channel.
During my (long – 6 years) academic studies I never had the chance to reflect on this concept (and I seriously doubt that at that time there were academic courses dedicated to the channel in my university).
In 1993, I started my carrier in the ICT channel with the most important Italian importer of multimedia entrainment products: Leader distribuzione. I could not find the word ‘wholesales’ in any of Leader presentation (or job description, etc.). It was replaced by the word ‘distributor’. That awaked my curiosity and I tried to understand (using a classical dictionary – there was not Wikipedia at that time – ) if there was a difference in the meaning of the two words. The only explanation I could find was the degree of complexity managed by the two entities. The distributor could not limit his activity to purchase and sales products; it had to provide also other services (in Leader case, translate manuals and Point Of Sales materials in Italian, support Italian specialised press, etc.) and supply a lot information to the Producer (ex. how a game would be evaluated by the local specialised press, pre-test evaluation of the most important game shops, etc.).
I believed that the increase of complexity was also the explanation of the specialization of the role of the interfaces among the different actors of the ICT channel and consequently the need to introduce specific terminology. Therefore, at that time, I was not a ‘purchaser’ but a ‘brand manager’ (sounds cool, no?). The definition really reflected the mission of the role: to represent the Vendor inside the distribution organization and with the resellers. In this sense, it really fitted the announced (internally and externally) Leader strategy in that time.
What was not defined, instead, was the difference between Vendor and Publisher. I suppose that the Publisher should have been used when the purchase of the game was done directly with the producer of the game itself and Vendor in all the other cases. Nerveless, the distributor should not leave ambiguity in such important distinction (the margins involved in the two cases, as well as the tasks to perform, are quite different).
After two years of experience as ‘retailer’, I was then back in distribution.
I was sometimes ‘brand manager’ and sometime ‘product manager’. In this second case, the accent was put on the mission to increase the margin of the distributor through selling technical solutions supplied by several vendors.
I learn that a System Integrator is a ‘retailer’ that brings together different products from vendors. They are different from a Value Add Reseller as normally they add value through the development (or customisation) of a specific software. It was not always easy to define clearly the difference between a Value Add (VA) and Volume distributor (and reseller) and most of the time this difficult was due to ambiguity in the communication of the company perspective and position.
It was also clear that the complexity of the ICT channel obliged the Vendor to have a dedicated interface: the channel manager.
The ICT Channel… today.
My happy school time in which the Manufacture had a perfect knowledge of the needs of the end user is far away.
Today, he has to develop alliances with other vendors to create a solution. The whole-of–alliance of a Vendor is called Ecosystem. A new role has been created to interact with the ecosystem: the alliance manager.
Very soon the concept of ecosystem and the alliance manager has been adopted by the ICT channel (Fig 3).
I think that this terminology is not yet well integrated in the Company ‘right’ culture of the organizations for which I worked for or I collaborated and once again this is due to ambiguity in the communication of the company strategy.
How Quality can contribute to improve the alignment between company culture and company strategy through corporate jargon?
Any public best practices (like IITL) or public standards (like ISO 9001) is based on a specific – and clearly declared – basic set of principles. Therefore, it is quite easy (and it is necessary) to verify if the company strategy is aligned with these principles.
The good news, it is that each public best practice/standard provides a set of terms and definitions that is aligned with their basic principles.
Therefore, if the quality coordinator has done a good job, through the public practice/standard is possible to have a glossary that is aligned to the company strategy.
For example, ISO 9001:2015 defines ‘interested parties’.
Using a quite high-level definition of the ICT Channel (like in Fig 3), it possible to verify if the team has a basic understanding of this definition. Then, you can ask if the ICT Channel could be considered ‘interested party’.
You can then use the definition of the standard to make the participants reflect on the underline principle of the standard itself; in this example, what kind of risk the ICT Channel can introduce in the organization if its expectations are not met (and this is a good occasion to talk about the expectation of the ICT Channel). When there is enough consensus, you can propose a final definition of the ICT Channel that will be used then in the ISO company procedures, in the internal and external presentation as well in job vacancies. Finally, the definition is add to the internal glossary available for all employees.
Ideally, the marketing department agrees to use a (small) part of the resources used in the analysis of on line communication to track how often the company glossary terms is used in the traditional company communication. This measure is then used with the concerned functions to keep alive (and aligned) their interest in using, as much as possible, the company glossary. This analysis should also show key words used in traditional communication not included in the company glossary; a pure treasure to start an action of continuous improvement. This kind of analysis completes the solution to the problem to align the corporate jargon to the company strategy and verify that this alignment is respected in the practice.
Corporate jargon influences company culture and, in the same time, it can reveal ambiguity in the communication of the company perspective and position.
The quality coordinator can contribute to a better communication of the company strategy proposing a public best practice and/or standard that is aligned to the company strategy. Then, he must be proactive in supporting all other company functions in using as much as possible the glossary of the public best practice/ standard; better if the glossary has been customised to the reality of the company. Ideally, the use of glossary in the company communication is measured in order to increase the awareness of the different company functions.
The Role of BIT in the IT Channel