Job Titles

Perhaps my lack of HR background makes me naive in this respect but I always considered job content – what you actually did – to be more important than your job title. I know – dumb. But then I have worked for myself these past 19 years and avoided what are often known with wild inaccuracy as “permanent jobs”.

Call me what you like, but when I come into your company as an outsider what interests me most are results, making improvements, solving problems.  I don’t need a title to hang my hat on, though I am almost always given one – I live or die by what I do and how effectively it meets the needs of my client, and I get paid accordingly.  Unfortunately, I am often lumbered with the title of “consultant”, sometimes prefixed by “management..” or “business…”, either of which are regarded with great disdain by media and sometimes the employees of companies.  You’ve heard the jokes before: “a consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it.”  Have a few more while you’re about it.  Ho bloody ho!

Such is the liability of the term that I need a new title with which to sell my services. How about “Person who puts right all the shit organisations get themselves into”?  Snappy, huh?! 😉

But consider the lot of the career professional within the ranks of a large organisation.  Perhaps in this age of shallowness and insecurity, many are teetering on the edge of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with the one small crumb of comfort that their job title gives them a status and self-esteem they would otherwise lack – and possibly sometimes to offset the lack of a pay increase that people really want.  As I say, we as a society are remarkably shallow at times.

At one time it was dead simple – job titles meant what they said and said what they meant!  A manager managed, a worker worked.  OK, so there were some quaint and obscure titles, many associated with long-defunct technologies and processes (remember wheeltappers and shunters?), though some trades and professions live on to this day.

I remember the time when suddenly everyone in corporate companies began to acquire the title “manager” – it may have been around the late 70s or early 80s – such that manager became totally ubiquitous and utterly meaningless.  Furthermore, those in real middle management roles had their collective noses put out of joint when they saw those in what could be deemed to be lesser roles suddenly acquiring the M word in their titles. What did they do about it?  They demanded grander titles yet!

Executives and Directors were created, none of whom owned a share of their organisation nor yet sat on any board.  Worse still, Vice President syndrome arrived from America, whereby anybody with a certain level of seniority and an office with a pot plant demanded this title, and in organisations of a certain size there seemed no limit to the number of Vice Presidents you could create! After all, there were so many people who had reached a certain level, but so few top jobs for them to aspire to, so their egos had to be massaged somehow – VP with benefits appears to do the trick.

The top dog at one time was the Managing Director, whose directors reported to the Chairman of the Board.  Luckily there is still generally only one Chairman (though in some cases they acquire the title Executive Chairman), but the senior management figure, the one generally deemed to have most responsibility for the success of failure of the organisation, is now referred to as the CEO, or Chief Executive Officer.  His Finance Director is now CFO, and many more enigmatic acronyms abound at more junior levels.

Meanwhile, this network was supported by Associates, Analysts, PA’s (far removed from the old-fashioned secretary) and a panoply of other people in weird-sounding non-jobs.  Titles at all levels became an explosion of unconnected and euphemistic words bearing only a tangential relationship whatever to the actual tasks performed, in order, presumably, to convey greater importance than the simpler description might suggest:  “waste management and disposal technician” was suddenly preferred to “bin man”; in fact there are a whole bunch of these strange titles here.

Worse still, I found this “Bullshit Job Title Generator” on the web – and the frightening thing is that the titles it generates are wholly credible.  You can just imagine a Corporate Quality Associate or Global Accountability Analyst or Investor Functionality Associate, to name but three.

To be perverse, I really think it would benefit everybody if job titles returned to their roots and stated in clear and unambiguous language precisely what the person is responsible for.  If payment were based on value added, measured in human and not just financial terms,  decoupled from titles and seniority, would we have more of a meritocracy than we have now?  No, I’m quite sure there would be plenty of jobsworths screaming blue murder that it was their turn, though in these lean and mean times maybe there are commensurately fewer of these people left?

What does annoy me though is what happened to a friend of mine, whose job responsibilities were increased but their title downgraded and salary left unchanged.  That message was clear and unequivocal: we don’t want you in this organisation so leave voluntarily to save us paying out an expensive redundancy package!  Akin to constructive dismissal, but showing the symbolic power of the job title.  I wish my friend luck and the last laugh.

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