A Rose by any Other Name – job titles

Job titles matter and deserve more thought than is often given. After all, a person’s job title is the public face of their identity both inside and outside the organisation. They can be a frequent source of discontent and division.

In some organisations such as the armed forces, police and the large consultancy and accounting practices the title is, deliberately, the grade or rank. Titles such as Colonel, Inspector or Senior Consultant tell others in the organisation something about the level of work, but not the content. Essentially, these are personal grades which can be useful where staff are frequently re-assigned or work in cross-functional teams.In most enterprises, however grade goes with the job, not the person. But all too often the organisation bites back.

Titles such as Assistant Director, Manager, Officer etc. come to be used as a substitute for rank and engender snobbery and oneupmanship. Giving grade bands titles such as Senior Manger Band, Administrator Band, etc is fine (though if you can find less descriptive names, please do) but keep to actual job titles in everyday usage. The Canteen Manager runs the canteen and the Production Manager runs the production lines. In most organisations no-one assumes these jobs are in the same pay band but they do know which manager to ask about lunch and which to ask about production. This is not necessarily a minor issue, especially if you want cross-team working. People can be very status conscious and quick to stand on their dignity.

The opposite side of the job title coin is all those meaningless titles that proliferate these days. The Rat Catcher transformed into Rodent Control Operative syndrome has long been the butt of comedians’ jokes but now we find titles that not only flatter but are also meaningless. Banks and building society call centres are among the worse – “please hold while a Customer Relations Agent becomes available”. Oh! and try to make them simple. Although the task of a ‘Child Pedestrian Skills Training Co-coordinator (advertised by my local council) is descriptive, it is something of a mouthful.

So look around your organisation. Are titles consistent? Do people say things like “I’m a Senior Manager” or do they say “I run the complaints department”? When your staff are asked, outside work, what they do how easily can they simply quote their job title.

Do not forget the organisation chart while you are at it. The only reason you have a chart is to show whom to contact. A badly designed chart can be highly disruptive. It is a very public document that can seriously demotivate those who think the chart underplays their status. A chart that appears to show status can be a great time waster. There are some, self-important people, who will only raise queries with someone of equal or higher ‘rank’.

Avoid aligning grade with vertical position on the chart. Put everyone on the line below the person they report to; not necessarily on the same horizontal level as others of their grade. As far as possible, leave job titles off the chart (“Payroll: J Smith, B Bloggs & S Brown” is better than “Payroll: Manager – J Smith, Supervisor -B Bloggs, Assistant – S Brown).


One Response to A Rose by any Other Name – job titles

  1. […] is saying that job titles still have a relevance within the context of an organisation. The second, A Rose By Any Other Name, also has relevance here – I particularly liked the line When your staff are asked, outside work, […]

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