Over the last couple of months, there has been many incidences which has made me to think a lot of advantages/dis-advantages of modern day job-titles; what aspects of the job titles do employees crave for; and the needs and its impacts on the modern-day organization. In theory, the main purpose of having a Job Title is to identify one to the other and second to quickly and in short describe the work one does. However, in practicality, it is very difficult to come up with Job Titles which does both.
The purpose of this blog is put some of my thoughts together on this topic based on my experience and what I have read. I do not think, however, that I am as yet qualified to provide any solutions on this topic.
The Ground Reality -
In general, based on several experiences I have come to a conclusion that correlation between reality and Titles is typically very weak. I will take my own case in my current organization. Over the last few years my Title in the organization – or let me say my HR Title – has had a very little correlation with my operational title or the responsibility. (To be very honest even today I have difficulty in remembering what my title is. I know at what grade I am in, however for my title I always have to refer to my HR records. Two or three times, I recollect even my boss asking me – ‘What is your title again?‘). Looking back, I would say that this poor correlation and my indifference to the same has worked out to my advantage. It made me flexible and enabled me to take up various different responsibilities – all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Titles can box one up which sometimes can become suffocating. Flip side of poor correlation can be that it can confuse others about yourself. However, IMO, that is okay. Confusion is a temporary thing and can be overcome.
Having said the above, I also realize that the effect of having one Title vs. the another can be very strong when you are in the job market. This, IMO, becomes true when you are standing in a crowded market of people of very similar abilities. Titles may help one to differentiate one from the other.
Title vs. Role -
Are they same? Are they different? I have seen many knowingly/unknowingly confuse between the two. You ask an unknown person – what do you do? Eight of the ten times you would hear “I am a Project Manager” or “I am a Software Engineer” or similar. To think about it, does this answer say anything about your work? IMO, it does not. It is just a Title. Proper answer to the question could have been “I manage a Project wherein we are building a bridge” or “I write software programs in Java“, etc. This is what you do.
Now, coming to Title vs. Role. IMO, the main purpose of Title is outward interfacing to identify one to others, and describes the level of authority and/or skill. Now what a person does in comparision with others in a group is a Role. The words “in comparision with others” is important here. Role helps to sort out who is responsible for what. In a collaborative work environment and from an individual’s perspective, Role is more important than the Title. Because in a constrained environment of a project – the Role may sometimes encompass more or sometimes less than what is prescribed in a Title.
HR Title vs. Operational Title -
As the organization size increases, there is typically a push for standardizing Title categories to facilitate human resources and operations management. This is an internal facet. However, as businesses grows more dynamic, people tend to operate in a continuously changing environment and pick up activities as is needed. This is what I meant by Role above. Driven by the Role, people tend to take up an Operational Title as is required.
“Progress Up” factor associated with Titles -
I came across this interesting article by Tamara J. Erickson (she has authored books on employee values) titled “Do we need Titles?” in Harvard Business Publishing Online. Tamara feels that the aspect of Titles which signifies our progress-up in the organization needs to be thought through again. According to Tamara, this “progress-up” factor in the Title inherently challenges the “numerical pyramid” structure on which today’s organizations are built upon. Here is what she has to say -
Many of the employee-related principles in today’s organizations are predicated on the assumption that the employee population is a numerical pyramid – a small number of older people, a medium number of middle-age people, and a large number of younger people. This was an accurate description of the workforce throughout the Twentieth Century. But, the shape is changing rapidly, moving toward a rectangle – an almost equal number of older and younger people in the workforce. As this change occurs, it will become increasingly impossible to move people “up” often enough to provide enough variety and opportunity for increased compensation.
Do Titles signify progress? -
My quick answer to this is no. Changing Titles do not signify progress, the breadth of your Role does. Unfortunately, I have seen some who consider this as a yardstick of their progress. This, IMHO, is an extremely one-dimensional thinking and can be constraining to an individual’s career. Challenge and variety should be considered as a measure of progress and success. Once again, to quote Tamara from her above article -
What is “progress?” Today many people want to define that for themselves – in terms of what they are learning, how much they’re enjoying the journey, or the vision they have for where they’d like to end up. A path of “progress” defined by the organization is a presumption that everyone would like to follow a similar route.
Linear aspects of Titles -
This seems to be an unfortunate limitation of how the current industry has structured the Title system. One can only go up if your Title has to change or only move laterally. There is an inadequate flexibility or motivation for people to move up or step back or even to move sideways to try out new things.
I would love to hear your thoughts. In my mind the industry has reached to a stage where some of the older practices needs to be “hacked into” as Tamara puts it.