Toro, toro, toro - cutting the bull leads to business success,according to Deloitte Consulting.

Had enough of thoughtware that can leverage your core competencies as effective communicators across and throughout the extended enterprise, to prevent the obscurification of knowledge capital that would otherwise be repurposed globally? Deloitte Consulting has, and on this basis has recently developed a software tool, Bullfighter, aimed at fighting modern business's addiction to jargon.

The program searches documents for jargon and unnecessarily complex language. Once installed, the Bullfighter toolbar appears in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, and works much like the spell check feature. The software scans documents for `bull' or over-used jargon terms, gives a score to the author for trying to use those words, suggests replacements, and then assigns an overall score.

Andrew Power, who leads Deloitte's UK Insurance practice, said: "We're hoping Bullfighter will shatter the credibility of business jargon, and make business communications clearer for all of us."

The fact that a consulting firm came up with the idea seems somewhat ironic, since consultants could be accused of introducing mysterious, but important-sounding business terms that over time have afflicted their clients. But Deloitte feels very strongly about eradicating the use of jargon within the consultancy industry, which is why it developed the tool.

The idea for Bullfighter originated with a Deloitte consultant who felt it was important to take `straight talk' seriously. As a result, an internal competition was held globally, to encourage Deloitte's consultants to submit the most offending words. Over 10,000 submissions were received with some of the most hated terms being: `leverage', `bandwidth', `touch-base', `incentivise', `cutting-edge', `robust' and `synergise'.

Sifting process
Some of the most popular hated words were used to populate the `Bull dictionary'. However Deloitte recognises that some bull words common to consultants may not be so applicable to other industries. To take account of this, Bullfighter includes a facility which allows users to add Bull words to the program.

The program also looks at the document length, number of times the jargon word is used and the degree of severity of the jargon term. This enables the program to calculate an overall `Bull Composite Index' so that the writer can compare documents and how high/low they score on a scale of one to ten.

The tool should, however, be viewed as a guide, and not necessarily a foolproof way to avoid writing in jargon. John Lister from the Plain English Campaign commented: "We love the sound of Bullfighter - computers and technology often get the blame for jargon, so it would be good to use technology to fight back! The only concern we would have is if people used the software as a fail-safe check. Instead, we would think it would be more useful as a guide or indicator. We would probably suggest it is used in the same way as a speedometer: it can tell you when you are going too fast, but it can't guarantee you are driving safely."

Stark message
There is a more serious message in developing the tool. Clear communications are shown to save businesses millions in revenue when communicating to their key audiences, such as shareholders and customers. In fact, in the early 1980s, the UK government scrapped 15,700 official forms, rewrote another 21,300 and reviewed another 46,900. The estimate is a saving of £9m.

So this may suggest that there is a correlation with a company's financial performance and its ability to speak and write more clearly. A review of communications from companies that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average, among others, shows that straight-talking companies consistently outperform companies that use vague, unclear language to communicate.

Among all 50 companies analysed, Home Depot earned the top spot for clarity in communications.

The computer hardware and software segments suffer low readability scores and use the most jargon overall. But Apple Computers Inc is a notable exception, proving that even technical companies can speak clearly.

Jobseekers, from recent college graduates to veteran executives, tend to use words with more syllables than words found in most other business documents.

State of the Union speeches given by modern US presidents are very clear and virtually jargon-free, and recent presidents use shorter sentences than their predecessors. President George H W Bush's 1992 address, as measured by Bullfighter, was the most straightforward speech among the 41 analysed. President Franklin Roosevelt's favourite word was `enterprise', used 16 times in three speeches.

The emergence of `bull' in corporate documents may provide an early warning sign of troubles. A review of Enron's communications during its last three years before filing for bankruptcy protection indicates that, when its performance began to sink, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences.

Some industries are truly `No Bull Nobles', while others are full of bull. Consumer goods ranks tops for clear communications, followed by media and telecommunications. Most companies that market directly to consumers seem to keep language simple. However industries such as financial services scored lower in clear communications, with manufacturing and energy & utilities faring only slightly better. This could be due to a number of factors including the technical and regulated nature of the industry. However, shorter sentences and less jargon is still needed.

Clear demand
It is clear that whilst Bullfighter is light-hearted in its approach, there is a demand for tools that encourage clear business communications.

"What has amazed us, is that in the first week of Bullfighter being launched, there have been more than 60,000 downloads of the software or orders for the CD from the Deloitte website. There is clearly an enormous appetite in business to clear up jargon - not just in our own industry," commented Andrew Power

If business and shareholders are becoming tired of repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leveragable mindshare, perhaps it is time to have an online, `bull-horned' conscience.

  • The program can be downloaded free from `www.dc.com/bullfighter'.
  • IN THE RING
    "If a solid value proposition is the best way to inoculate stakeholders, there needs to be a frictionless way to articulate it."

    Bull Composite Index: 6.3

    Translation: We need an easy way to justify our work.

    "Ultimately, it's all about avoiding scope creep and implementing our global enterprise-wide methodology while time-boxing tasks and phase-containing the issues log."

    Bull Composite Index: 2.9

    Translation: Ultimately, it's all about proper project management.

    "We excel at the dissemination of scalable, extensible, global initiatives - and their socialisation throughout an entire enterprise."

    Bull Composite Index: 2.5

    Translation: We work on large, challenging projects.