Straight-talking companies that use clear language to communicate with investors and customers outperform firms that resort to obscure corporate double-speak, says Deloitte Consulting, which has developed a jargon-busting software program.
"We've had it with repurposeable, value added knowledge capital and robust, leveragable mindshare. Enough, already," says Brian Fugere, partner at Deloitte Consulting. "If Corporate America wants to restore public trust, we need to start speaking and writing more clearly. Less empty rhetoric about openness, honesty and accountability, and more straight talk."
Deloitte's Bullfighter application searches documents for jargon and unnecessarily complex language. Once installed, the Bullfighter toolbar appears in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, and works much like the spell check feature. The software scans documents for egregious bull, flogs the author for trying to use those words, suggests replacements, and then assigns a Bull Composite score.
To populate Bullfighter's dictionary, Deloitte launched the "Serious Bull Contest" inside the firm. Within three weeks, nearly 10,000 submissions and 5000 unique bull words were suggested. "Leverage" was voted the most hated word, followed by "bandwidth" and "touch base."
Deloitte used the tool to examine a wide range of communications from companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and found that straight-talking companies outperform companies that use vague, unclear communications.
Among the 30 DJIA companies analysed, Home Depot earned the top spot for clarity in communications. The computer hardware and software segments suffered the lowest readability scores and used the most jargon overall, with the notable exception of Apple Computers. Consulting firms were slightly ahead of the technology segments - but earned no bragging rights when it came to clear communication.
Deloitte says the emergence of "bull" in corporate documents may provide an early warning sign of troubles. A review of Enron's communications during the last three years indicates that, when performance began to sink, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences.
Deloitte's conclusion - that straightforward communications can be linked to financial performance - mirrors the findings of two accounting and finance professors, Malcolm Smith of the University of South Australia and Richard Taffler of England's Cranfield University. Their independent study concluded that clarity of communications can be a very good indicator of corporate performance.
"We're hoping Bullfighter will shatter the credibility of business jargon, and make business communications safer for all of us," says Fugere. "We're just as guilty as the next consultant when it comes to using words like paradigm, bandwidth, and leverage, but we're committed to straight talk as a way of doing business - and Bullfighter is helping us get there."