Job titles – should they matter?

When Mark and I set up Grovelands in 2009, one of the things we wrestled with for a time was job titles. Both of us had worked for large firms that had plenty of hierarchy, where reporting lines were important. At one time I had two jobs (one salary) as Regional Director and Sector Director, two email sign-offs, and two business cards. It was a bit mad. So Mark and I agreed not to have job titles at Grovelands, and this worked well, for a time. The thinking was that we could be anything at any point, I could be Relationship Manager, Delivery Manager, Head of Credit Control, Interviewer, or even Genius.

A thought provoking article I read got me thinking; it said that if you have the title “Founder” it probably means you have been fired, resigned or put out to pasture. I wondered whether a big job title might sometimes make up for a lack of salary/pay rise or to placate someone. I had experienced this at one firm where myself and another director were going for a promotion. I got the job and she didn’t, it was quite awkward as it had been quite a public and drawn out process and it meant that she’d now report in to me. We were keen to keep her and so she was given the title of Executive Director, but essentially she kept the same job description, apart from joining a quarterly meeting. At the time I thought this was badly handled and I expect she thought the same.

Is a job title just an indicator of vanity? “Global Head of…”, “International this” or “VP, AVP, SVP of that” are all big titles but often a big title doesn’t mean a big job. I once met a Director of Imagineum, I have no idea quite what job he had. When I became a director of something for the first time, my brother said to me:

“You are a director of the company so therefore an officer for the firm. So what if the business goes bust David, will you be accountable?”

My reaction? “Err no!” But I realised that I was then a director in name only, but now as a Director of Grovelands I am clear what my accountability is. I think in business today we have seen a merger of US and UK job titles. A Managing Director is often NOT the person who runs the business, they will report to a CEO. MDs these days tend to be more like the Sales Directors of old, they run an income stream for a firm. A ‘head of’ now appears to be a catch-all for a number of responsibilities. How big is a Head of Operations for a firm, is that a big or small job? A large insurer was going to call its claims people Decision Makers or Customer Warriors but decided (quite rightly) that they should create the environment first to achieve this, rather than give someone a job title and hope it might happen by osmosis. Taco Bell have Food Champions, Disney have Cast Members, Apple have job titles that end Genius.

I reported in to an MD (Sales Director) for a couple of years, who came up to me and said:

“Great news David, we are now moving to a flat operational structure, isn’t that good news?”

I must have looked puzzled as he repeated it again. I genuinely couldn’t understand what this meant to me, it felt like less opportunity, not more. How did I get an opportunity if there was no structure? Why was this good news? As part of my development I got a monthly audience with the CEO (he really was the CEO in this instance). In a meeting with him I would ask what else I could be doing to get a MD role within the firm and always got the same response:

“Create a promotion David, it won’t come to you.” Okay, but how?

So what’s in a job title? Very little I think these days. It can be nothing more than fluff. We fought giving out job titles at Grovelands for a long time, but interestingly our staff wanted to know what and where they sat in the Grovelands universe, so we now have job titles.

What of the future of job titles? Will they survive? Apparently we will all eventually have a Chief Academic Officer, a Cloud Controller, a Master of Disaster, a Personal Bot Mechanic. Maybe job titles will be adjunct to other words such as Experience, Outcomes, Customer, or Profit.

Let me know what you think the future looks like to you, or the craziest job title you’ve experienced – I would love to hear from you.

 

 

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