Management phrases that make people crazy

Are your words getting under your team members' skin? Check yourself against these phrases - and consider some alternatives
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Bad habits in IT

Many bosses have their go-to sayings and catchphrases for any given situation. Maybe they don’t even realize they sound like a broken record, but their employees sure do after hearing the same phrases on repeat, meeting after meeting.

In the best of cases, those phrases can be motivating – leadership wisdom and advice that team members carry with them throughout their careers. In other cases, these catchphrases might evoke an eye roll or two – quirky, but overall harmless. In the worst cases, however, the phrases bosses use can be counterproductive, offensive, or they can negatively impact team morale.

[ Working on your emotional intelligence? Read also: 10 things leaders with emotional intelligence never do. ]

Before you head into your next team meeting, review the list of phrases below, shared by IT professionals. In addition to sharing the words that got under their skin, they also suggest phrases they would like to hear instead.

"I need this ASAP"

Alexander Oleshko, program manager, Miratech: “Using the phrase ‘ASAP’ instead of giving an actual deadline always puts pressure on me. Rather than just pushing to get things done ‘yesterday,’ I would like my IT boss to tell me why something is extremely urgent and specify a time framework. A deadline such as ‘by noon today’ or ‘within an hour’ is much more helpful and efficient. Otherwise, I would interpret ‘ASAP’ as when I am done with everything else."

"Let's do DevOps"

Steve Burton, DevOps evangelist, Harness: “Almost always a mandate without a plan for success, rollout, implementation, or staffing, this phrase is usually invoked by companies that feel they’ve missed the boat and are falling behind competitors in delivering strong, secure code more quickly and experiencing less downtime.

DevOps is not a quick-turn implementation; it's a company’s desire to align developers and operations and ensure they share, focus, and deliver on core business ideas and objectives. It’s also an involved cultural mindset change that requires – among other things – automation, moving fast, embracing risk, learning from failure, and sharing knowledge/information.

Instead of ‘Let’s do DevOps,’ I’d love to hear, ‘How can we create a DevOps culture where our teams deliver ideas faster for the business?’”

"We need to do more with less"

This was often coupled with him speaking about the need to be ‘nimble.’

Andrew Baer, director, S&P Global: “I had a boss whose refrain was ‘We need to do more with less.’ It was often coupled with him speaking about the need to be ‘nimble.’ This was at a company where, at least in IT, the idea of the right amount of staffing resources was dismissed when looking at project needs. (And I'm concerned this is a view at many companies.)

The use of this phrase from the leader, along with related actions, led to the purchase of at least $1.5M in services that we either never used or did not get implemented properly – and then cost even more money to fix. There is a concern I have that while speed to market, cost, complexity, and other project issues are still considered, the number of resources is dismissed more and more often.

Instead, I’d like to hear something along the lines of, ‘We need to be deliberate, strategic, and purposeful in our actions while moving at the speed of business.’"

"Ping me"

Gene Mal, CTO, Static Jobs: “A former boss of mine used every opportunity to say ‘ping me’ to underline he was an IT professional. He used it in conversations, emails, and instant messages. The situation got so bad that many of our non-technical users started repeating it after him even though they had no clue about a system utility of this name (it's a program used to check if a computer is up and running on a network). Instead, say ‘contact me,’ ‘call me,’ or ‘drop by.’”

"We can't"

IT is often perceived as inflexible and slow by parties that are dependent on them to drive improvements.

Devin Gharibian-Saki, chief solution officer, Redwood Software: “IT is often perceived as inflexible and slow by parties that are dependent on them to drive improvements. Whether or not this is actually the case, IT bosses tend to use phrases that can amplify that perception, such as, ‘We will get there,’ or ‘We have too much on our plate already,’ or ‘This can’t be done in the short term.’

IT teams should use statements like, ‘If this item is really important to you, let’s review the priorities to accelerate this element,’ and ‘We are working on that, are you interested in seeing the progress?’

Whatever statement is used, the key is that what is being said is in line with what is being done – or not done. IT needs to set realistic expectations in a helpful manner, without being overly optimistic on what can be accomplished, nor overly negative when those they serve come to them with weighty requests.”

"Let's effort/pivot/leverage/align/synergize this"

The Enterprisers Project editors: As "get-stuff-done" people, like so many IT pros, we love old-fashioned, plain English action verbs. Just tell us what you want, OK? 

Oh, and don't get us started on swim lanes. 

[ Want to make better decisions? Read 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide, by CTO Sanjay Malhotra. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.