Top ten credit union buzzwords and phrases that must die (and why)

Selfie. Congrats. Bestie. At the end of the day. Low-hanging fruit.

These are a few of the words and phrases I can’t stand. Through a combination of social media, pop culture, trite politicians and old-fashioned grammatical laziness, our society delights in creating ridiculous buzzwords and phrases. These are just a few of my “fingernails on the chalkboard” favorites. Undoubtedly you have some of your own.

Unfortunately, the credit union world is not exempted from this practice. Our shops large and small practically ooze similar buzzwords and phrases. You may have noticed their particular presence, especially during and just after executive team meetings.

To help avoid this senseless mistreatment of the English language and elevate the overall discourse in our credit unions, please review the following list of buzzwords and phrases that must die (and why).

Disclaimer: I’m guilty of using these words and phrases in my career. That’s why I’m sharing. We can beat this, together.

  1. Thought leadership. Yeah, let’s start with this one. People love to toss out the phrase “thought leadership.” Guess what? When someone says that, what they mean is ideas. But for some reason, they feel smarter and more important by taking a simple word and needlessly warping it into two. Just say ideas. It’s a great word and works perfectly well.
  2. Cross-sales. Credit unions must evolve from the idea of mere cross-sales into member engagement. While I am generally opposed to changing up words just to sound smarter, this change does make sense for a lot of reasons. The word sales tends to turn off both employees and members. And what we’re doing isn’t selling at all. We are engaging with our members to align the most relevant products and services with their lifestyle.
  3. Paradigm. Stop it. Just stop. When people say this, they are trying to sound smarter than people that say trend. You can still say trend. It’s okay. I’m pretty sure if you stand up in an executive team meeting and say “Recent research indicates a shift in trends towards XYZ,” everyone will know what you mean.
  4. Boots on the ground. Here’s an example of business people stealing a phrase very meaningful in the military world and co-opting it for the corporate. Yes, we have front-line employees. Yes, they often have their feet on the ground. Yes, very occasionally they may actually be wearing boots of some type and have those boots on the ground. But we do not have boots on the ground in a way that makes sense to say in the credit union world.
  5. If you will. For some reason, some people like to say this at the end of roughly 75% of their sentences, especially those sentences uttered when standing in front of a group of coworkers. “We must find a way to improve our products per member ratio, maybe go after more used auto loans, if you will.” Every time I hear this, I’m struck with the wild urge to say, very matter-of-factly, “No, I won’t.” It would be so worth it is to see the look on the other person’s face. You’re asking me if I will? Rhetorically? Then allow my rhetorical response to be “No.” There’s no need to say this at the end of sentence, folks.
  6. Incentivize. This. Is. Not. A. Word. Let’s all stop using it. Yes, I know it is fun to say things like “Let’s think about ways to better incentivize our front-line staff.” You know what else is fun to say? Motivate. Motivate makes a whole lot more sense and is actually a word in the English language.
  7. 30,000 foot view. As in “Let’s take a look at the strategic plan from more of a 30,000 foot view.” This is an example of business people trying to sound more like jet airplane test pilots. Sure, it’s glamorous. But does your boardroom look like the cockpit of an F-22 and could your khaki slacks and sensible shoes pass for a flight suit? I didn’t think so. Just say something more appropriate like “Let’s step back and take a look at the bigger picture here.” Thanks, Maverick. Go get ‘em.
  8. Drill down. As in “Get the team together and let’s drill down into these budget numbers.” You know who drills down? Roughnecks on oil rigs and carpenters, mostly. What you really mean to say is “examine carefully” or “take a second look at.” I guess you could say “Let’s look at these budget numbers from a three millimeter view,” but that would violate number seven and most people don’t know what the heck metric is.
  9. Literally. This one applies at the office, the dinner table, the school playground, anywhere. Literally has become the new like. For example, “We are literally going to have a meeting about how to literally better connect with our members and we will literally sit there and talk about it literally forever or until someone’s head literally explodes.” The majority of people who use the word literally don’t know its definition. And I don’t care if Google now says it’s okay to use the word this way. If Google jumped off a bridge would you, too?
  10. Synergy. I’m pretty sure one of the signs of the coming apocalypse came to pass when a person looked at the words synthesis and energy and decided, for some reason, to smash them together and create this ugly Frankenstein of a word. It’s overused. It’s overdone. It’s overhyped. Just because we can cram synergy into a single sentence 37 times doesn’t mean we’re any smarter than the person in the next chair. This one is a nonnegotiable. Seriously, let’s all stop saying it. The world will be a better place by its omission.

Okay, so I may sound a little cranky. But I think you get the point. Credit unions have some of the smartest people in the business world working for them. We also serve some of the best people in the world in our members. Surely, this combination of great people both inside and outside the institution deserves a better take on the language we use. We’re all smarter than this, so let’s start showing it. Literally.

What about you? What credit union buzzwords would you like to kill?

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details

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