7 phrases leaders should stop saying in 2020

You hear it all the time: a colleague using an IT term incorrectly or relying on corporate speak to make a point. Here are phrases our community would like to erase from business and IT speak
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We all have them – those words or phrases you hear repeated in meetings, email, the media, etc. that make you cringe. Maybe it’s because they’re used improperly, or maybe it’s just jargon that isn’t worth the breath it took someone to utter it. Either way, there are certain terms that we could all benefit eliminating from our vocabulary. 

We asked our community of IT leaders and experts to share the words or phrases they wish would be put to rest in 2020. Read on to see if you’re guilty of saying any of these, and tell us about the phrases that personally annoy you in the comments section.

Humans are not “resources” 

“Let’s stop referring to human beings as ‘resources.’ You hear it all the time: ‘We need more (human) resources.’ People are not the same thing as resources like gold, oil, or natural gas. We can’t just mine people. We’re talking about human beings with feelings, emotions, and connections with others. We need to avoid that term because it moves away from the human aspect into the commoditization of people. Instead, let’s simply call human beings what they are: People.” – Mike Walker, Senior Director, Open Innovation Labs, Red Hat

[ Is the term "Digital Transformation" overused? Read: Why people love to hate "digital transformation" ]

Are you really doing “DevOps?” 

“I’d like to hear people use the term ‘DevOps’ in the right context. A lot of people keep saying they are doing DevOps when, in reality, they are not. It’s about IT and software development coming together and collaborating to automate processes. You can’t just form a team and keep doing things the way you have been and call it DevOps. Another pet peeve: every time there is a problem, folks throw DevOps into the mix (because they don’t really understand the concept) and think it will solve all their problems. I’m not against the term being used, but be sure you’re using it in the correct context.” – Cedric Wells, Director of IT Business Solutions, Flooid

Stop using “Agile” terms wrong

“Let’s end the misappropriation of agile terms. It’s not uncommon to hear people use the words ‘scrum’ and ‘sprint’ wrong. Or they say that they’re ‘Agile,’ but what they’re really doing is being nimble, or ‘agile’ with a lower-case ‘a’ as opposed to using the formal ‘Agile’ process. This can be overcome by familiarizing yourself with proper ‘Agile’ terms.” – David Egts, Chief Technologist for North America Public Sector, Red Hat

No value in saying “value-added” 

“I wish people would stop saying ‘value-added.’ It’s weird to imply that value has been externally added, like butter on popcorn, when you actually mean the value is inherent. Instead, just say what you mean, something as simple as ‘good’ or ‘worthwhile,’ etc.” – Melissa Swift, Global Solution Leader, Digital Transformation Advisory, Korn Ferry

Enough with “IT/business alignment” 

“One buzz phrase that I’m still hearing is: ‘Align IT with the business.’ And I know why it happened. For 15 years, all the consultants, academics, researchers, prognosticators, even top survey lists would list the No. 1 challenge for IT as: ‘Align IT with the business.’ All it did was further separate IT from the business. The idea itself is bad. Instead, let’s shift the mindset to: ‘We are the business.’ This positions IT in a whole different, more strategic realm. And if there are people who still resist this thinking, consider this: When was the last time you heard the CFO or the CMO walk down the hallway and say: ‘Hey, we’ve got to go to work and get finance aligned with the business; we’ve got to get marketing aligned with the business?’ Let’s stop doing it and officially move on.” – Dan Roberts, CEO, Ouellette & Associates Consulting

Call “soft skills” what they really are 

“I would like to hear people stop using the phrase ‘soft skills.’ It will take fundamental changes in mindset to help people recognize the value that strong human skills bring to a team. We also need the will as well as the resources to foster this valuable skill set in employees. Perhaps the first step is to stop using the word ‘soft’ and champion the word ‘human.’ Soft just does not belong in our language when we talk about skills.” – Eveline Oehrlich, Chief Research Analyst, DevOps Institute

[ Also read: Goodbye soft skills, hello core skills: Why IT must rebrand this critical competency ] 

You may be “impacted” by this one 

“This can be a hard habit to break, but I wish people would stop using ‘impact’ as a verb. This is generally a dodge around saying how something will affect something else. It’s purposeful vagueness.” – Melissa Swift, Global Solution Leader, Digital Transformation Advisory, Korn Ferry

What IT terms or corporate phrases get under your skin? Share the phrases or words you'd like to eliminate in the comments. 

Ginny Holden is an independent consultant who brings the practice of IT to life through memorable storytelling.



I don't agree with all of the suggestions but this article made me think and chuckle. Can we consider adding "kind of," "sort of," and "like" to the mix? They are not as substantive as the phrases in the article but no less annoying and meaningless. I speak to myself as I write this!

This article was a joy to read. I'm usually the word stickler around here.

Leverage should be in this list for sure! For the same reasons DevOps, Agile and Value-add are. It's used incorrectly more often than not. If you're going to USE software to do the job it is intended for, you're not leveraging it. (And you're not UTILIZING it, either!).

I don't agree with most of these comments and in many cases I can provide adequate counter examples.
I am not saying people often use these terms incorrectly and that is frustrating in itself.
To say "just use human instead of soft" is naive - lets think of an alternative word to human soft skills ...........there are human hard skills and human soft skills .........very different skill sets ; lets find a better word!
The "Business IT alignment" comment is a joke and comparing IT to Finance even worse. This person has clearly not seen hundreds ( and more) cases where IT is operating independently of the business versus as (integral part of business change and processes) - i would love to show you how real this is . Have you ever asked business leaders how they feel about this comment.

I have so much to respond I am actually asking myself whether I should bother carrying on and where are more valuable places to spend my time.