HomeAnalysisThe significance of job titles

The significance of job titles

By Emmanuel Jinda

OVER the years, I have learnt not to take job titles at face value. Ideally, job titles should accent the scope, responsibilities and hierarchies within an organisation as well as show reporting relationships of staff members, but I have come across job titles that are completely divorced from job content.

There are job titles that describe the scope of responsibility. For instance, managerial roles would have terms such as executive, manager, chief. Some reflect what the job does; for example dealer, breeder, accountant and other job titles are a combination of the afore-mentioned, such as chief dealer, senior breeder, marketing executive.
Some large organisations have found it manageable and transparent to design a formal set of job titles for each employment level. Employees are fully aware of various career paths within the organisation. The importance of job title is amplified by a recent survey of office workers which revealed that 70% would choose a better job title over a salary rise. Why do job titles matter that much?

Job titles define our identity, self-esteem, status and hierarchy. This is precisely the reason most people hold on to titles, they will be seeking their fair share of recognition. Job titles have also been used to determine the progression in one’s career. Colleagues, customers and other stakeholders can determine an individual influence- real and implied from their job title. Colleagues and customers are therefore guided by job titles to know who to approach with challenges and where to gather important information. Job titles are also essential for attracting the right candidates for recruitment.

After defining job titles and how they influence their careers, work relationships and the external stakeholders, are organisations crafting them properly? There are organisations that have used titles painfully, where they have created toxicity rather than clarity. Job titles have been used to constructively dismiss employees. Getting a bigger title equals being part of the select few. This is why those in the C-suite suffer letting go their titles. In most environments titles—like power—create attachment. Due care must therefore be exercised when crafting job titles.

However, despite all the perceptions and practices associated with a job title, William Wells Brown noted that people in organisations do not follow titles. They follow courage. He thinks titles or promotion per se are not a problem. It is how these titles are used in organisations as bargaining chips that matters. At whatever level, people need respect. Most people in organisations are going off trade by confusing hierarchy and respect.

Let me also mention the entrancing intricate approach to job titles by the Japanese. There is more of a gradual ascension to higher titles that might not have a clear relationship with one’s key performance indicators because of their emphasis on seniority, equality—not equity and mutual respect. The individuals who rise to the C-suite are usually very polite and mingle with all subordinates.

There have been calls to get rid of titles. A chief executive at Citrix, an international organisation, thinks that if traditional titles are done away with and instead organisations use titles that speak to the roles played by an individual this will provide more clarity. He says it also opens possibilities as people can play more than one role compared to traditional titles that put one in a box. There is a growing new trend of inviting employees to supplement or craft their official titles. However, caution should not be thrown to the wind as some titles will leave your client bemused.

Research has found that creative titles can be very effective as engagement and job satisfaction increases. Millennials are more appealed by such titles as they see the company as technologically advanced, flexible, innovative and empowering its employees. Some creative titles that have replaced traditional titles are meeter greeter for receptionist, associate teacher for temporary teacher and automobile propulsion specialist for driver. Notwithstanding the diverse views herein, it is impossible to find organisations where all members have equal status and power. Even among animals, hierarchies are evident after minutes of observation and, when a group of strangers meet for the first time, a hierarchy of leaders and followers emerges immediately. There is need for job titles that reflect the right hierarchy in organisations. These can be made flexible in some way. Teams should be treated as adults in organisations who should define what is best for them.

Using titles as valuable currency leads managers to hold on to the illusion of power and always wanting to protect their turfs. Protecting turfs naturally closes one to new ideas and any challenges. As a best practice titles should promote clarity not power. People should know who to speak to when something is needed. The development sector is one sector where gigantic titles do not exist and titles are used strictly for clarity and never as a bargaining chip.

In conclusion, job titles should reinforce your organisation’s belief and values in employees’ potential. Job titles should therefore be motivational and empowering. Clearly, the subject of job titles depends on what organisations have used them for and best practice requires that organisations renounce the toxic mentality.

Jinda is the managing consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of professional HR and management services — +263 773 004 143 or 263 242 772778 or visit www.proservehr.com

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