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Essential words for the '90s

English is often described as a dynamic language with new words being constantly and easily added to cope with changing situations. During the recession of the early 1990s many new words were coined to help UK managers describe business trends and developments appropriately. A selection of these new words (with an explanation of their meaning), will equip you with the right "management speak" in your work.


Every activity, no matter how trivial, must be accompanied by an audit. Once an accountancy term, this is now used to lend an air of importance to the humblest exercise in checking or measuring (for example, light bulb audit)

Business process re-engineering

A phrase to be used in all meetings. It means looking at how work is done and attempting to improve customer satisfaction with results. Lots of audits are needed.

Competencies (also Competences)

Important-sounding way of describing what you can do. Staff can be judged by checking off a list of (or auditing) each person's competencies. There are also core competencies, the belief that companies should concentrate on what they do best. This usually means downsizing.

Competitive Salaries

Two distinct meanings - not to be confused. Competitive salaries are low for workers - who must compete against workers' salaries in the Far East. But they are high for managers - who must compete against managers' salaries in the US.


Sacking middle managers to produce a flat company. Also known as delevelling.


Firing staff.


Companies become more effective if they are leaner, fitter and meaner as a result of de-layering, downsizing, etc., and more efficient by getting fewer people to do more work.


Employees are empowered when they are able to get on with their work with the minimum interference from management. Managers talk about this but are usually not quite ready to deliver it.


Successful firms are flattened firms. This means they have eliminated middle managers from their hierarchies to bring organisations closer to customers.

Human Resources Managers

Used to be called Personnel Officers. The HRM's main task in the 1990s is to tell the human resources that they are being downsized.

Middle Managers

You may be one of these but you never admit it. In modern business there are only senior managers. Middle managers are history because theory requires that they be de-layered, downsized and flattened.

Performance Indicators

Provided you decide how these are calculated, they will always prove that your ideas are working, or that somebody else's aren't.

Performance-Related Pay

Pay freezes for everyone except management (see competitiveness, performance indicators).

Portfolio Jobs/Careers

People who are being downsized are told that jobs for life are a thing of the past and that they should think of working for a "portfolio" of several firms or have a "portfolio" of different careers. In practice, many older, unskilled and unlucky workers find their portfolios are empty.


The word downsizing has a negative sound to it so it is being replaced by rightsizing, which implies that a company is doing the right thing by sacking people.

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. all the time
b. manage
c. created
d. suitably
e. unimportant
f. most modest and insignificant
g. dismissing from a job
h. nastier
i. got rid of
j. state openly

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