This was a question that leapt out at me from last Thursday's Appointments section in the Times, and even now, a week later, I still don't know what it means.
I had another look at the ad. It had been placed by a firm called Philip Rice Partnership. The position advertised was for Director for Customer Care, Electronics Sector. The post was explained thus.
"Our client is a leading international electronics Group committed to long-term growth through innovative technologies and the highest standards of quality and customer service. In order to more fully appreciate customers requirements the company recently commissioned a major survey of customer opinion and the results will form the basis for a substantial cultural change. A Director for Customer Care is required to work closely with senior management in driving this high profile programme. The successful candidate, who will report to the Group Chief Executive, must have played a key role in a major customer driven, cultural change project."
And in case you haven't picked up the idea by now that they are serious in their requirements, they go on to specify that the candidate must be: "A marketing orientated professional obsessed with providing the highest standards of customer satisfaction."
Now, there are probably readers out there who are nodding along with this like people tapping their feet to Schoenberg, but I have to say that to the ordinary unemployed arts graduate on the Clapham omnibus, or indeed to me, this means nothing. Actually, what he or she will probably notice first is the strangely flawed grammar of the ad. Philip Rice's use of the hyphen is very capricious. If you are going to hyphenate long-term in "long-term growth", than surely you should hyphenate "customer-driven" and "marketing-orientated"? But they have done one and not the other. The capital letter on Group in the first line of the announcement is unnecessary. Indeed, it is wrong. The sentence says that the "client is a ... group". The client cannot be a Group till it has been named. While we are on the pedantry trail, there should be an apostrophe after customers (in "customers requirements") but there isn't. I have never understood why things are orientated, when they can be simply oriented. And I haven't even mentioned the split infinitive, which I think can be stylish, though not as here, in "in order to more fully appreciate customers requirements ...".
However, none of this gets us any nearer to the meaning of the ad. Nor does examination of the words. The ad is full of meaningless modern jargon phrases like "high profile", "identify a strategy", "innovative", and so on, but the word that always puzzles me and which turns up a lot here is "drive". When a thing is customer-driven, what does it mean? Does it mean that you let the customer take it over and run it? Does it mean that you consult the customer to find out what he wants and then give it to him good and hard? Does it mean that you find ways of making the customer happy about what you are already doing?
To put it another way, what is the difference between customer-driven and customer-led? Is there a difference? Is it like having the engine at the back or at the front? If the ad said, "Have you ever been an agent for customer led cultural change in a major plc?", what would it mean? It's quite important, because the successful candidate, the new Director of Customer Care, will have to drive the project. Not lead the project, but drive it. It doesn't say where or how fast, just drive it. It will, in the language of the ad, be a Director of Customer Care-driven project. And what is this "cultural change" business? Does that mean getting all the employees going to the opera or reading Booker prize-winners? Well, no, of course it doesn't, but what does it mean?
I don't know why I am bothering. Considering that the winner will have to be "a marketing orientated professional obsessed with providing the highest standards of customer satisfaction" - that is to say, someone who is certifiably round the bend - the ad is not aimed at someone with all his marbles in the first place.
Perhaps it's a good thing not to understand it, after all.