Where the Rubber Meets the Air

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Certain phrases that are part of the workplace are just too good not to use. These are not phrases from management like, “people are our most important asset” or, “changing the paradigm on client engagement.” Certain phrases capture the essence of what’s going on in the organization so perfectly that further explanation is never needed.

The best phrases don’t come out of the CEO’s office, or from consultants, or off of the framed vision statement on the wall. The best phrases come out of the bowels of the organization. Management may not even know they exist.

The most creative and cut‑to‑­the-heart‑of‑­the-matter phrases all seem to have something to do with getting things done. Call it implementation, call it execution, call it program management or change management­ — the name doesn’t matter. The inability to get things done generates good phrases.

Here are four of my favorites, all from people who do real work.

  • Rotating bald tires. Or, wow, this is hard work but all this effort will go nowhere, and in the end, nothing will change. When you rotate bald tires, you still have four bald tires.
  • We are building our own coffin. This phrase means we are doing a lot of work and the result will be that we are out of a job. This phrase usually comes from project teams involved in cutting costs.
  • Mushroom management. This was described to me as when you are treated like a mushroom, that is, kept in the dark and fed, well, we will call it fertilizer. I know exactly what that means.
  • Same old horses, same old glue. Or, the same people will always generate the same result. This applies when cost-cutting means all the ­low-paid people are eliminated but no one whose photo is on the organization chart.
  • And my favorite: Where the rubber meets the air. Meaning, the wheel never hits the ­ground — the opposite of “where the rubber meets the road.” All the talk is good but nothing will ever get implemented. It’s the plan du jour that provides no hope of making a difference.

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