In a previous post, I asked TR members to list some of the most hated buzzwords they’ve encountered. The word “synergy” came up quite often. However, is the word more of a buzzword or a code word? I think it’s the latter.


I recently asked TR members to identify some of the more annoying buzzwords that they’re sick of hearing and would like to eliminate from the English language. The response to the poll was good, but there were many more offerings in the comment section. One of the most popular buzzwords that was a candidate for removal was the word “synergy.”

That got me to thinking — is synergy a buzzword or a code word? It seems to me that more often than not, it’s a code word —  for everyone’s favorite word “layoffs.”

Defining the term

Most often you see the word “synergy” bandied about when companies merge. Wikipedia defines synergy as applied to business as:

A corporate synergy refers to a financial benefit that a corporation expects to realize when it merges with or acquires another corporation.

It goes on to identify two types of corporate synergies: revenue and cost:

A revenue synergy refers to the opportunity of a combined corporate entity to generate more revenue than its two predecessor standalone companies would be able to generate.

A cost synergy refers to the opportunity of a combined corporate entity to reduce or eliminate expenses associated with running a business.

Naturally when I refer to synergy as being a code word for layoffs, I’m talking about the cost synergies in that definition. (Expenses is another term that is usually a code word for personnel in many organizations.) Revenue synergies almost always seem to take much longer to achieve and don’t have quite the personal impact as cost synergies.

Some examples

Here’s some examples of the word “synergy” winding up being a code word for layoffs:

HP, Compaq Join Forces

“The company will be under greater scrutiny since HP began the year with its stock structures of the companies may create barriers in achieving synergy.”

HP-Compaq Merger Means More Job Cuts

And again when HP bought EDS:

HP in “Advanced Discussions” to Buy EDS

World leading computer maker HP and Texas-based business services outsourcing titan EDS each issued statements … There is a lot of synergy that can go on.” 

HP Surprises Wall Street with Size of EDS Job Cuts 

HP’s not alone however:

IBM Leads the Pack with the Lotus Buyout

“IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner arranged when he completed a hostile takeover … ‘We believe with the synergy of the two companies being brought together'”

Lotus Eliminates 183 Jobs

We could go on and on pulling links like that to prove the point.

The bottom line for IT leaders

Too often today, people don’t come out and say what they really mean. They’ll bury their true intentions behind buzzwords and code words. Being able to speak in such terms can be handy, and in some organizations it is as important as speaking English. At the bare minimum, you should be able to understand what people REALLY mean when they toss out such words.