Kicking the can down the road

As with most corporate jargon and complex phrases, the term, ‘kick the can down the road’ has a much simpler expression – ‘make it someone else’s problem’. Being a natural part of human behavior, this skill sits very well in the corporate world.

In its simplest form, corporate managers, and even rookies, can easily postpone discussion on a difficult topic by simply stating, “let us sleep over this issue” or “let us take it up in the next meeting (which conveniently does not take place for several months) or with a curve ball, “can we get more data points before we make a decision on this?”. Quite often, in meetings, troublesome topics are deliberately scheduled last on the agenda to provide ample opportunity to be skipped or postponed.

A more serious form of this game is in dealing with customer commitments. It is the dream of all sales executives and managers not to say ‘No’ to prospects and customers. “Can your video game software help me balance budgets?” – Yes, this add-on feature will be given to you free. “Can your company guarantee peak performance, with a dedicated service representative, for three years?” – Yes, of course. “Can your product make me fly?” – Yes, we are including this feature in our next version! These responses, apart from being wildly imaginative and tangential with reference to what is being sold, also make promises to be fulfilled by someone else at a later point in time – classic ‘kick the can’!

At the professional level – call it the NFL level – the can being kicked is the company itself. This is where the C-suite executives (the CEO, CMO and a variety of other C’s) use decisions and indecisions to tide over serious issues temporarily, often at the cost of long term setback – comparable to increasing the size of the fuse on a detonator instead of removing the explosive.  For example, to make up for a poorly designed product, instead of fixing the design, you deploy more support staff to field customer complaints, hoping that customers don’t desert the company before you, the CEO, do. As the Vice President of HR, you appease people by offering inconsistent pay revisions to different groups of employees till everyone is equally dissatisfied – and then you jump ship leaving your legacy – also known as the previously-kicked-can – for your successor to grapple with.

For the suave executive, the ability to kick the can down the road must be matched by the ability to quickly move places.

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3 thoughts on “Kicking the can down the road

  1. Great post! And you’re absolutely right. There are no shortage of company euphemisms for “let’s ignore this for now”. I have two others that drive me up the wall.

    The first of these is “Let’s put that on the back burner”, which implies that we’re keeping the boiling pot on the stove, but moving it somewhere out of the way or on a lower-heat flame. They might as well just say, “Let’s dump this pot in the garbage and get on with things we can actually do something about.” However, Back Burner is sort of a casual, almost slang expression compared to the next one.

    The other phrase is actually codified into official corporate jargon and is mentioned in a lot of training materials as the way to keep discussions on track. It is the dreaded “Let’s put that in the parking lot.” This is akin to saying, “You bring up an excellent point, John. Why don’t we wad that up, spit on it, and throw it in the trash right in front of your face? How do you like THEM apples?”

    Once a topic is put in the “parking lot”, it is never revisited again. Ever. I must remember to never park my car in such a parking lot!

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you very much for your appreciation and also the additional thoughtful and humorous comments – totally appropriate and in line with corporate strategy!

      On the parking lot analogy, in meetings (that last from an hour to a few days), there is actually a person religiously writing down on the proverbial ‘white board’ all parking lot items – which dutifully becomes the agenda for subsequent meetings!

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