Management-speak: Norming around mechanisms


This is the entire text of an actual piece of email I received from a high-level manager in response to some feedback I sent.

Thanks.

There is a lot of norming around any of these mechanisms as well as a certain amount of ability to hold ones ground in these interactions in addition to the admin of the rule being good enough as discussed.

Bob (not the manager's actual name)

I've heard rumors that this message was written in English, but I'm not convinced.

Comments (48)
  1. Billy says:

    Wow!  I was going to spoof that but it’s so confusing that I can’t mimic it.  Can anyone interpret it for me?

  2. Jack Mathews says:

    Norming?  What is norming?

  3. Ian G says:

    Has the manager been replaced by one of those Markov text generation programs?

  4. Thom says:

    I’m confused too, but here are my takes:

    1) Thanks.  The current implementation does leave a lot to be desired but it’s what everyone agreed to and making changes now would cause conflict within the group.  Bob.

    2) Thanks. The behavior is by design.  Bob

    3) Thanks. We don’t need no stinking suggestions.  Bob

  5. George Jansen says:

    There is a section I think called "Rough Drafts and Fair Copies" in The Reader over Your Shoulder. In that spirit, and knowing nothing of RC’s original email, I’d attempt at translation as follows:

    "We attempt to improve these procedures continually in the light of experience, and your speaking up contributes to this. At the moment, though, I do not think that the procedure is positively harmful."

    Or perhaps he hit Meta-x "dissociated-press".

  6. Rob H says:

    Thom, I like your takes; the impression I got was a combination between 1 and 3.

  7. Jim Austin says:

    Does this manager read "The Old New Thing"?

  8. Tom says:

    I think it says that there’s a lot of people that would like to see a change, and they can hold out against the ones who keep saying it’s good enough.

  9. Bryan says:

    Jim:

    I’d hope so.  People who write such nonsense need to realize how useless it is.

  10. John says:

    Haha, great post, but to echo the sentiments of an earlier comment – I hope this senior mamager doesn’t read your blog.

  11. Mark Sowul says:

    It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

  12. ::Wendy:: says:

    Option 4:  Go away.

    Possiby with a touch of frustration,  arrogance and maybe a dash of confusion thrown in.

  13. Charlie says:

    John:

    Or reads the blog and is willing to disembiggen the vocabulary for us.

    My take on it, after some head scratching: "People are used to the way it works, and will make a fuss if any changes are made". Having dealt with this very phenomenon myself, and additionally having been the person who had to reject perfectly reasonable features on these grounds, that’s where I’m placing my bets.

  14. Peter Ritchie says:

    "Norming", is that a reference to Norm from Cheers?  "Norming" would be sitting on a bar stool drinking beer, no?

  15. Mike C says:

    Get this manager a copy of <i>Strunk & White</i>, Stat!

  16. Daniel Chait says:

    Not to hijack, but a related linguistic tic I’ve heard a lot and which seems to have emanated from Microsofties: "tooling".  As in, "we’re working on the tooling for the next of the .NET platform.".

    "Norming" seems to be of the same stripe.  Or is that striping?

  17. codekaizen says:

    (The following usage is obligitory in light of the foregoing ‘cromulent’.)

    @Mark:

    Agreed. He embiggened the English language with ‘norming around mechanisms’.

    Excuse me while I go back to norming around my codebase to get it ready for release.

  18. Dataland says:

    My exec-speak translator produced this:  "I am very busy and much too smart to even consider your non-executive input. Besides, I know everything that is knowable."

  19. Gabe says:

    I just naturally assumed that this was a result of some speech-to-text or machine translator.

  20. schwiet says:

    "Good enough as discussed"

    /sigh

  21. kbiel says:

    Mike C,

    Strunk & White is what got us here in the first place.  Their ridiculous rules about ending sentences in prepositions and comma placement, makes those who are already confused by English even less likely to be successful communicators.

  22. Triangle says:

    "There is a lot of norming around any of these mechanisms"

    I’m guessing this means something like "Everyone is confused/has problems with the suggested solutions"

    "as well as a certain amount of ability to hold ones ground in these interactions"

    This could mean "If you really understand what’s going on"

    and in "addition to the admin of the rule being good enough as discussed."

    "which the person in charge of it does"

    So in summary:

    "Everyone is confused/has problems with the suggested solutions, if you really understand what’s going on, which the person in charge of it does.

    Thanks"

    I don’t know if that’s any better or not.

  23. pcooper says:

    Well, I’d believe that it’s written in English. But just as there are differences between English as spoken and written in different countries, or even parts of a country, there are differences between English as used by managers and as used by others.

  24. kbiel says:

    For those of you who consider "The Elements of Style" to be the last word on proper English grammar and the guardians against execu-speak (such as the sample above).  Here is just a little proof that Strunk and White are actually perpetrators of thick, unpenatrable prose:

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001905.html

  25. Miles Archer says:

    I suspect that "norming" is a microsoftation of Tuckman’s team dynamic theories. Google Tuckman for more info.

  26. Mark H-A says:

    I recommend not looking "norming" up in Urban Dictionary 8-P

    Naughty managers… tsk.

  27. Reginald Wellington III says:

    " Here is just a little proof that Strunk and White are actually perpetrators of thick, unpenatrable prose:"

    1.  "Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs." (Strunk and White)
    2.  "Never use adjectives or adverbs."  (Your interpretation based on that link??)

    Those two statements are not equivalent.  The first is a general guideline to help writers improve clarity by being direct and precise.  You’re taking it too literally if you interpret it as statement 2.  Perhaps you should consider going back to Hooked on Phonics instead of trying to tackle Strunk and White.

  28. ex-DonH says:

    When I was in Windows and got management mail like this it usually translated to something like:

    "Yes, it would be simpler if all the groups in the project followed the agreed upon [codes/rules] for tracking [bugs/specifications], but groups create their own procedures and you’ll just have to argue with them yourself.  I’m satisfied as long as they follow any rules whatsoever, as long as those rules isn’t too sucky, so I’m not going to intervene and expose the limits of my authority."

  29. Scott says:

    Shocking. I’m usually able to parse this kind of stuff, but without context, I am stumped. This gets some sort of Dilbert award.

  30. Gazpacho says:

    Hope he’s not in your chain of command.

  31. silky says:

    if you change the first "any" to "many" it makes a bit more sense.

    and i reckon Ray was providing feedback on user interactions, so that explains that part.

  32. Igor Levicki says:

    It should probably say:

    There is a lot of norming around many of these mechanisms, as well as a certain amount of ability to hold one’s ground in these interactions in addition to the administration of the rule being good enough as discussed.

  33. Matt says:

    "I’ve heard rumors that this message was written in English, but I’m not convinced."  Hilarious.

    I can’t even figure out if "Bob" is trying to express empathy.

  34. Joe says:

    about 15 years ago a friend of mine in the office next to me at MS showed me an email he got from SteveB. it was so garbled (Steve at that time was famous for not fixing any typos) that we couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say.  Dan had to reply back to Steve asking him to "please clarify".  Steve was nice about it and it came back error free…Raymond, why not just ask the dude what he was trying to say???

  35. Steve Halpin says:

    I speak management – allow me to translate:

    * I got your feedback

    * I am going to ignore it

    * I’am responding with a meaningless message so you won’t feel bad that I’m ignoring it. We care about our people.

  36. SRS says:

    I got told once by a manager that I needed to ‘prioritise my priorities’. I immediately ran that up the flag pole, and I’m still waiting for someone to salute it.

  37. Anonymous says:

    My attempt:

    "Thanks.  Too many people join bandwagons over these procedures, although it’s possible stand your ground against them.  Simply administering the rule is adequate, as discussed."

    But context could make it mean something completely different…

  38. angETF says:

    It’s just "revenge of the geekless", isn’t it ?

  39. John E says:

    Strunk was teaching clueless freshmen to write mininally acceptable prose.  White was a master of the familiar essay.  It is senseless to assess White’s prose in terms of Strunk’s pedagogy.

  40. DjLizard says:

    Verbing weirds language.

  41. Mr Cranky says:

    It is difficult to believe that a senior manager who is incapable of writing fairly clear or grammatical prose is doing any useful work.

  42. Stephen Jones says:

    Frankenstrunk, as the book is often known to linguists is a horrible little book, that doesn’t even pay the least attention to its own unscientific strictures.

  43. And this is why most of us can’t become managers, thank God (:P)

  44. Centaur says:

    From Wikipedia:

    > In linear algebra, functional analysis and

    > related areas of mathematics, a norm is a

    > function which assigns a positive length or

    > size to all vectors in a vector space, other

    > than the zero vector.

    > A vector space with a norm is called a normed

    > vector space.

    By back-formation, “to norm” would mean “to introduce a norm over a vector space”, and “norming” is the gerund of “to norm”.

    This notion of defining a norm could be extended to other areas where norms can potentially be defined.

    [That’s right, because management uses linear algebra metaphors all the time. -Raymond]
  45. I associated "norming" with "development of social norms" so that

    "There is a lot of norming around any of these mechanisms"

    would tend to indicate that social norms have developed to work around/deal with/interact with whatever rules have been put in place.

    i.e. you have the mechanism, and social norms have  accreted around it.

    The grammar of this, and the two bits being joined onto it, are obviously appalling.  The whole thing reads like someone who has management-speak so ingrained that they can’t speak normally any more, dashing off an email that they’ve half-revised and then hit send without actually reading.  Not good.

  46. Mikkin says:

    A fine example of content free grammar.

  47. AE says:

    Would "norming around" be "creating a standard from ", these mechanisms he spoke about being code or practices used by the staff?

    Without much context, it is very difficult to understand what he could be refering to.

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