It seems that titles always become an issue of some sort in growing companies. To some, they are an indication of prestige or importance; to others they are a symbol of a hierarchy that supports the functioning of the organization. To others, they are a joke, or a sign of the company’s inconsistencies. Some companies have abolished them altogether so as to be more egalitarian, and others have come up with creative replacements for the long-used titles after which the upwardly mobile have long clamored.
What do titles really say? And to whom do they really say it? Let’s remember that titles are a message that is subject to the interpretation of those in receipt of that message. The recipients can be within the organization or outside of it. Those within the organization theoretically have more knowledge about their meaning, for they are part of the culture and how hierarchy is employed in that culture. But in large companies, where there is layer upon layer of management, creating numerous titles, even insiders may struggle with the difference between Assistant Vice President, Deputy Vice President, Vice President, Executive Vice president, etc. Just looking at the manufacturing function of a chemical company, it would not be unusual to find the following levels- Supervisor, Manager, Director, Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice President, Vice President, Executive Vice President and Senior Vice President. There could also be Chief Manufacturing Officer or Chief Operating Officer. Why so many levels? What do they all mean?
When an entrepreneur starts a company, he or she needs to think about the culture the company will have, the values and behaviors it will support and exhibit. But many put their founding team together and take off. They do not think about titles or what titles may say until they have already handed out a few. The technical founder wants to be called the Chief Technology Officer as a condition of coming aboard. It seems like a small thing at the time. The business development person comes on as Director of Business Development. The entrepreneur doesn’t even have a title. Then things take off a bit. A financial person comes on board as Controller. Within a year, the team starts to get organized and to think about growth and scaling the business. The members of the management team all have titles at different levels, leaving employees guessing at what they mean and who reports to whom. On top of that as new, perhaps more senior folks come on board to add experience and stability the founder may find herself in a box in positioning them, as the titles are all over the place.
Even in stable businesses that have been around for a while, titles are often given out without considering all of the ramifications both within and outside the organization. Just a few quick thoughts about titles:
- · Make sure they all fit within the organization chart of your business.
- · Have a job description for each title.
- · Make sure that your idea of the title comports with what the market expects from that title. An important customer or vendor facing title should not be just a reward to a loyal or long-term employee when those outside of the organization view that title as an important part of their relationship with the company.
- · Those with titles have to have the competencies to handle the work that goes with the title. When a business hires its first IT person, there is no reason to name her CIO or CTO. Know the limitations of your hires and don’t give them titles above those limitations. It will mean problems later if you do.
- · If your firm goes for newer designations like Chief Experience Officer, Vice President of Innovation and Engagement, etc., make sure that your organization chart is clear so that everyone knows to whom they are accountable and answerable.
- · The way titles are offered and taken away is a reflection of the brand. Use the values the organization subscribes to in making hires, promotions and even demotions.
- · Giving somebody the title of a “C” level executive doesn’t make them one. Make sure the ability, the acumen and the competencies are there first.
- · Don’t tie yourself into knots trying to satisfy an employee’s desire for promotion by creating new, meaningless titles.
Titles can clarify or they can be a distraction. Give them the thought they deserve to serve your organization well. Discourage your people obsessing over them. Hold them accountable for meeting the responsibilities that go with them. Live within your values.