Comments
In Praise Of Clichés
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
jastroff
0%
100%
jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 10:50:14 AM
In Praise Of...
>> I maintain that leadership clichés are necessary and powerful.

Yep

>> When your team's up against your organization's own goals, your team will know your priorities and vision and act accordingly. What do you think? To cliché or not to cliché? Authentic or lazy? Tell us what you think in the comments section.


After working for many large companies, I think I've settled on this advice to my team: "It is what it is"

not sure it's a cliche, but it seems to work
Lorna Garey
67%
33%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/14/2014 | 11:21:46 AM
Re: In Praise Of...
I'll take a pithy cliche any day over "mission statements" or other communiques that take hundreds of words to say exactly nothing. I just read a long press release that conveyed zero hard information and mentioned to a colleague that I was in awe of the writer's ability to speak in BS.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/14/2014 | 12:35:53 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
@Lorna- Absolutely. Mission statements are for the most part terrible. They are do long. You can't remember 10 cliches packed into a mission statement. A mission statement I've heard pointed to as one of the best in the world is for Advance Auto Parts it reads:

"It is the Mission of Advance Auto Parts to provide personal vehicle owners and enthusiasts with the vehicle related products and knowledge that fulfill their wants and needs at the right price. Our friendly, knowledgeable and professional staff will help inspire, educate and problem-solve for our customers."

That is one of the shortest I've seen and it still seems too long to me. Personal vehicle owners? Vehicle related products and knowledge? Seriously?

What would be wrong with: "We will provide peope with the parts they need at the right price. Our staff friendly staff will provide expert knowledge and solve problems for our valued customers."

You know who might remember that? Employees, customers, even executives. You know who would remember the first? No one.
Lorna Garey
0%
100%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/14/2014 | 12:38:54 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
Amen to that - Advance Auto is in desperate need of an editor.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/14/2014 | 12:49:35 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
@Lorna- The whole fortune 500 is in need of one. They try to stuff their mission statements. Try this novel by Avon:

 

Avon's Mission


Avon's mission is focused on six core aspirations the company continually strives to achieve:
  • Leader in global beauty: Build a unique portfolio of beauty and related brands, striving to surpass competitors in quality, innovation, and value, and elevating Avon's image to become the world's most trusted beauty company. Learn more about Avon's brands.
  • Women's choice for buying: Become the shopping destination for women, providing a personal, high-touch experience that helps create lifelong customer relationships. Learn more about customer engagement at Avon.
  • Premier direct-selling company: Expand Avon's presence in direct selling, empowering women to achieve economic independence by offering a superior earnings opportunity as well as recognition, service and support, making it easy and rewarding to be affiliated with Avon. Learn more about how Avon empowers women.
  • Most admired company: Deliver superior returns to shareholders by pursuing new growth opportunities while maintaining a commitment to be a responsible, ethical company and a global corporate citizen that is held as a model of success. Learn more about recognition Avon has received.
  • Best place to work: Elevate the company's leadership, including its high standards, respect for diversity, and commitment to helping Associates achieve their highest potential in a positive work environment. Read about Associate engagement, workplace safety and diversity at Avon.
  • To have the largest foundation dedicated to women's causes: Be a committed global champion for the health and well-being of women through philanthropic efforts, with a focus on breast cancer, domestic violence and women's empowerment. Read more about Avon's global philanthropy.
Lorna Garey
50%
50%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/14/2014 | 4:22:40 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
I have seen worse than Avon. How about everyone jumps over to the Mission Statement Generator and takes their best shot? http://cmorse.org/missiongen/

 
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/14/2014 | 4:38:33 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
@Lorna- Ha! Good idea. I got a good one: "Our vision is to continue to proactively simplify business resources to allow us to endeavor to interactively recontextualise economically sound mindshare."

I believe i've worked at this company before. :)
PedroGonzales
0%
100%
PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 12:18:55 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
Cliches are much before because everyone understands the message.  Think about someone taking one hour to explain the mission of the organization. I'm sure not all people will be able to keep their full attention all the way to the end. A one line message with a simple idea is something that everyone can follow.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/14/2014 | 12:26:49 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
"It is what it is" is quite powerful. I also am fond of "It is all good."

I think there's real power in accepting instead of griping. Of course, there is even more power in fixing, but sometimes we can't do that for various reasons. 

But here's a question: "It is what it is" isn't really mission-specific is it? I mean, it doesn't grow the company or point the company in a certain direction. It simply encourages the team to accept certain realities. 

Does that mean we should accept a second category of cliches (call them "standing orders" maybe?)? Or does it mean you and i are being long term destructive to the people we are using our cliches on because we're not encouraging people to change the status quo?
jastroff
50%
50%
jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 12:33:41 PM
Re: In Praise Of...
@dave

 

It is what it is.

 

get it?
TerryB
100%
0%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 1:25:13 PM
Really?
I don't know, David. If the servers all melt down or all the applications quit working, I'm not sure someone telling me "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" is going to help much. I think I would shove their tongue in the shredding machine.  :-)

I certainly agree mission statements are a joke. Replacing with a cliche wouldn't hurt much.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/14/2014 | 4:36:21 PM
Re: Really?
@terryb- But "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" isn't the kind of cliche I'm praising. that's the example of a bad leadership cliche.

The type of cliche that MIGHT help in that situation is something like "we pride ourselves on the hard work of our employees" or "we are innovators." These are instructive to the mission and might help create the identity of your workers or influence your culture.

If you make your cliches central to your mission, people have something to fall back on.
Laurianne
100%
0%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
7/14/2014 | 3:26:34 PM
Talk vs. Walk
I have worked for polished talkers who were terrible walkers. Unless you back up your words with action, I won't respect you as a leader.

If your actions win my respect but you use the same phrase over and over -- you use a cliche even -- that is not a problem in my book. It may even become a joke between us.

 

 
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/14/2014 | 4:42:58 PM
Re: Talk vs. Walk
@laurieanne- Sure, cliche isn't going to save a bad leader. But I've followed good leaders my entire career and they all make much more use of cliche in their communications than they or anyone else would liek to admit.

At the heart of it, there's a reason a cliche is a cliche-- people repeat it so many times because of the inherent wisdom in it that we get tired of hearing it. It certainly seems like a bad idea to ask leaders to find new good ways to say the same thing or worse yet, ask them to say something wrogn just to avoid the cloche.
Lorna Garey
50%
50%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/14/2014 | 4:49:09 PM
Re: Talk vs. Walk
It's much like a really good song that people get sick of because it's overplayed. IOW, "don't hate me because I'm overexposed"
zaious
50%
50%
zaious,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 7:03:15 PM
Re: Talk vs. Walk
There are some cliches that are woven in the culture of some companies. A 'careful' manager might still need to use it (he may not like it himself). 

And, to me, other aspects of human behavior are more vital than the use of cliches. I can stand the cliches from a manager I like.
Technocrati
0%
100%
Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 9:04:47 PM
Re: Talk vs. Walk
@zaious    Good point, companies force cliches all the time and usually those that get the farthest up the ladder are able to recite these cliches and may actually believe them.  

Or at least fake it.
SaneIT
100%
0%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/16/2014 | 7:11:47 AM
Re: Talk vs. Walk
I think it can be summed up saying that clichés aren't all bad and if you recognize that they are simplistic looks at human nature they can be used effectively.  It's amazing how motivated some people get from a seemingly simple catch phrase so why not use them if they work.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 12:36:57 PM
Re: Talk vs. Walk
@SaneIT- You're right. I should have used the term "catch phrase." Anyone who writes for sitcoms knows the power of a catchphrase. You never want your staff to say, "Whachya talkin' about, CIO?" :)
Technocrati
100%
0%
Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2014 | 9:01:21 PM
A Well placed Cliche can Do Wonders
Really interesting topic, that of cliches.   I agree while often trite, using the right one in the right moment can provide the momentum needed to  meet the challenge ahead. 

I champion originality but there are times when  well placed cliche will do the trick or at least help some.
zerox203
50%
50%
zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
7/16/2014 | 2:33:10 PM
Re: In Praise Of Cliches
It feels likes this is a topic that makes the rounds pretty frequently - although I did get a chuckle out of the linked Forbes article. Is talking about cliches a cliche? The world may never know. Like the cliches themselves, though, there's a reason for that - If we do something (or hear something) enough, we want to take a closer look at it and see why we do it (this is true for everything from business practices to accidentally touching a hot oven). Any  lazy analysis that paints cliches as completely good or bad (of which there are plenty) invite a good analysis like this one that weighs the good with the bad.

Cliches have become mainstays for a reason, but unfortunately that defense in itself invite their overuse and misuse. For example, you should use a simple cliche to get a message across quickly and easily, but you shouldn't use it when something more specific is just as good - don't say 'we need you to think outside the box' when what you meant is 'we can't afford your current idea for X specific reason'. Nevertheless, we all know managers who have been seduced by the dark side of cliches... but we also know their evil cousin, the 'modern' manager. The guy who goes out of his way not to use cliches, talk like a regulary guy, and make sure it doesn't sound like he went to business school. While that's all well and good, we all know that he's equally as likely to be a lousy manager.
Angelfuego
50%
50%
Angelfuego,
User Rank: Moderator
7/17/2014 | 6:12:14 PM
Re: In Praise Of Cliches
@David, Re: "Pick your clichés carefully. Make sure they're at the heart of your vision." I think that is true. Our words are powerful and should be chosen carefully. I think sometimes we can speak things into existence, especially when it comes to saying our statements and cliches frequently.
Angelfuego
50%
50%
Angelfuego,
User Rank: Moderator
7/17/2014 | 6:28:00 PM
Re: In Praise Of Cliches
@David, Re:" Shared vision is the key concept. A shared vision requires clear, simple communication so that everyone understands it. Clichés offer the chance to do something rare: Convey an idea we all understand but need to re-emphasize." I agree. Cliches that are repeated enough can help everyone get the clear vision. In a sense, cliches can become mantras. However, I think the cliches need to be thoughtful and not just some useless jargon. One of my bosses used to always tell us "Proper planning prevents poor performance." This rang a bell for me and I hear myself using the same cliche years later at a different job. I had another job and remember that I used to get frustrated by receiving an outrageous assignment followed by "Make it happen." This boss would have unrealistic expectations, demands, and deadlines and that was his famous cliche. If anyone would explain why it would not be quite possible or would try to explain barriers that prevent meeting the deadline, he would say, "Make it happen." That was frustrating, but we always knew what was expected.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 12:46:11 PM
Re: In Praise Of Cliches
@angelfuego- That's an exccellent example of the good and the bad use of cliches. I think one lesson we can learn here is that the good cliche "propoer planning prevents poor performance" actually provides advice on what to do. the bad cliche sounds basically like the manager is out of ideas and wants you to go away before you realize it.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 12:43:45 PM
Re: In Praise Of Cliches
@zerox203- I guess we have to rely on another cliche-- everything in moderation. :)

Seriously though, your very thoughtful comment points out the troubles of all management writing. As much as you want to teach it, you can't do it directly. There is no single method of management which would work for all managers in all situations. There are no step-by-step instructions.

The best I think any writer can do is propose a set of ideas knowing that some small percentage of them will resonate with any given individual. And the best a manager can do is read a bunch of articles and figure out which ones resonate with them.

I look at management advice like clubs in a golf bag. Some of them you use a lot. Some of them you only use when you are stuck behind the tree in a puddle. The best any of us can do is list all the potential clubs so a manager can decide what to stick into his bag. 
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/18/2014 | 6:57:17 PM
Only resort to cliches....until the cows come home
"Choose your cliches carefully." A cliche is not a cliche when it can be used to sum up your group's new reality, some situation that it's struggling to understand and the cliche acts an interpreter of events that all can relate to. Then again, I've heard plenty of would-be leaders mindlessly resort to cliches 24X7 until the cows come home.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 12:51:22 PM
Re: Only resort to cliches....until the cows come home
@Charles- that's an interesting comment. You are basically saying a cliche is cliche based on its use as opposed to its commonality. So a "stitch in time saves nine" is only a cliche when misused? Intellectually, I'm intrigued by this concept. It explains why coaches get away with "we're goign to be more aggressive" every football season and it explains why cliches work at times. 

On the other hand, it makes them frighteningly difficult for managers to learn when to use them then. Oh well, i guess that is the manager's problem.
Broadway0474
50%
50%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2014 | 3:58:41 PM
Re: Only resort to cliches....until the cows come home
From what I can tell, cliches are cliches when used correctly for their common definition. When they are used incorrectly, they are simply mistakes. When used correctly, they are used because they are easy and vague --- and vagueness is prized by leaders without clear strategic vision. When they are used incorrectly, they muddle the situation even worse because no one knows what the heck you mean.
kstaron
50%
50%
kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
7/31/2014 | 1:54:52 PM
I'll take a cliche, but No buzzword bingo
It's one thing to have a mission statement that may spout simialar things all companies want. (to serve their customers better, to have products to be proud of etc.) but when we are in a meeting I don't want to play buzzword bingo as my boss is speaking either. don't tell me you want to (fill in buzzword here), tell me how you want us to do it so we are doing it better/faster/cheaper than the competition.


IT's Reputation: What the Data Says
IT's Reputation: What the Data Says
InformationWeek's IT Perception Survey seeks to quantify how IT thinks it's doing versus how the business really views IT's performance in delivering services - and, more important, powering innovation. Our results suggest IT leaders should worry less about whether they're getting enough resources and more about the relationships they have with business unit peers.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and community news at InformationWeek.com.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.