Category Archives: Corporate Culture

Should we get more creative with our job titles?

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Every time we come out to speak to new people (be it a networking event or your friend’s birthday party), the first question you’re asked is “What do you do?“. Understandably so: its a great conversation starter. However most of us while being asked have troubles finding the answer. Do I say what my title is or should I just go ahead and explain what I actually do? While title is a quick answer, it often means nothing to people you speak to and brings no joy to the speaker.

There’s a lot of buzz now around unconventional companies who gave up on traditional employee titles. Apple introducing a Genius role, Google’s “Jolly good fella“, start-ups full of Sales Ninjas. Is it just a trend or a change coming in the way we see our employees impact on organization?  While I am intrigued but still undecided about the issue, I will analyse pros and cons first.

Where do the titles come from? Most of jobs are created before the person is hired. Something needs to be done and it needs to be packaged to be sold to a potential hire. So we come up with a title and a job role description, and that’s how we find the matching candidate. However if we’d be really honest, most of the times when role is created we don’t know what this role will evolve into. While we know what we need to be done in the next year, we don’t know what we’ll need afterwards.

The trouble with the titles is that because of the uncertainty, we try to keep them flexible and a bit vague. We do this to give room for initiative, opportunity for growth. That’s how everyone ends up to be a “project manager”. While we are working on keeping things “general”, titles have less and less meaning. When you meet another “PMO” or “operations manager”, for some reason, you still need to ask what exactly it means. Even HR managers all do something different. So why giving a generic title that means nothing?

There are few key practical reasons that come to mind:

  • Experience level. If you’re new you get to be a coordinator, not a manager. Earn your title by years in the industry. Titles is the easiest way to build the hierarchy.
  • Job needs to be done. We need a certain skill, we name the job the same way.
  • Compensation grades.  Title often defines how much you’re paid.

That’s how we know that a new hire in sales reporting to a “Director” cannot be higher than a “Manager”, will have the same function name (sales) and will be paid significantly less. The title shows clearly the place in the hierarchy while  not saying much about the actual job.

Here are few reasons we should consider rethinking how to call our employees.

1. Motivation & Ownership. One of the key drivers of engagement is giving employees a purpose. Why don’t we let them choose a title that manifests it? Imagine having a title you’d be proud of, that would clearly reflect the role you do or want to play. Let titles describe an impact/purpose rather than every day routine.  By giving a higher purpose, we give freedom of achieving it and having an ownership of the process.

It also seems that some titles always meant to say “you’re not important”. Better sounding job roles can improve engagement and feeling of ownership. I came across an awesome title while writing this – Director of First Impressions. You know who that is? A receptionist. Maybe it’s too much, but try to do a poor job with that title!

2. Hierarchy weight. While we established that titles define levels of authority well, maybe we can get rid of its negative implications. Employees already know who they report to, no need to point it out every time they introduce themselves. Let them feel important in their field and have autonomy of decision making within their area of expertise. How about being an IT Guru or a Solutions provider , rather than an IT support team member or a sales executive.

3. Flexibility. What we do often changes every few months, but our job titles stay the same. Don’t make titles set in stone,  – focus of the role can shift depending on the time of the year, projects you’re involved in or even company’s direction. How about reviewing the job titles (and job descriptions) every year?

And here are the few things we should consider before making a change:

  • Preparation. Don’t go crazy.  Before changing everything, consult your employees, think about implications externally, design communication plan, make sure your comp&ben processes are ready, create a framework.
  • Comp & Ben. People still want to grow and be promoted with a salary increase and a grade system helps. Keep a background grading scale, but not depending on titles, but scope and level of work.
  • External recognition. If customer wants to meet with a Sales manager, why not be a sales manager. If candidates would more likely search for “marketing” than a “customer happiness” , make your roles more visible by using a more popular title. If needed, have external titles for creative  internal ones.
  • Reality check. Don’t overshoot. Don’t call a “guru” someone who is not an expert in the field. It can only damage reputation internally and externally, for the employee or the whole company.
  • Do not decide for the employees. Let them agree with how they will be called. Maybe even let their colleagues come up with the titles, this way recognition will be guaranteed as well.

As someone who puts employee engagement first, I am pro-choice, however considering the world is a place that likes structure, – I am voting for double titles. There has to be one that we can use internally, among colleagues, to give a sense of purpose of the job; and one external, more traditional, that will still help people relate.

It’s amazing though  how a different title can light up a conversation about work, give a sense of purpose and a reason to wake up smiling on Monday morning. Why would we say no to that? 🙂

Bullshit Bingo: time to redefine the buzz

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Ever played office buzzword Bingo? It’s also known as Bullshit Bingo game and if it’s still doesn’t ring a bell –   even Dilbert has known it since 1994. Basically, it’s a bingo game with most commonly used words in meetings, and if you hear one, you cross it out, until you can claim BINGO. It’s very engaging. It’s all about the words most used in your meetings, words that fill up your conversations, presentations and ‘motivational posters’.  If you could create one for your corporate meetings, what would the words be?

 

The challenge with buzz words is that we hear them so often, that we stop question their meaning. People often rely on subconscious knowledge of words they heard before. We don’t question what ‘running’ or ‘breathing’ means, as we don’t question ‘creativity’ or a ‘true leader’. We either use words for something we once defined or in worst case scenario for something that we never explored the meaning of.  Often when people join a company, they hear about ‘leadership’, however often we don’t explore together what it means, we just assume we all know what it means. And when we stop questioning the definition, what happens is that the word loses its meaning. We continue using slang that doesn’t mean much to us, doesn’t motivate us and can potentially lead us in a wrong direction.  By placing more and more buzzwords in our communication to employees, in reality we only cultivate indifference and boredom.

The good news is that lately we’ve seen new trends rising to create new, more engaging company vocabulary. From more casual and more exciting language in the meeting rooms, to letting employees to choose their own job titles (when did job titles mean anything anyway). Instead of making it more ‘corporate’, many companies now create a feel of entrepreneurial spirit. The corporate language is now more and more in the hands of employees. They are the ones who make things happen in your company, so let them decide how to speak.

How to encourage revamping your corporate lingo? Here are few simple suggestions:

  • Redefine. Do not assume that we all know what being ‘proactive’ or ‘agile’ means. You might all be thinking different things and someone in the room wondering what the hell it means. Sit down and discuss what it means for you and your team. Align. See if the word is still relevant or if you want to call it something else.
  • Listen. What do people talk about outside the meeting room? What words do they use when discussing ideas that engage them most? Listen, and help them feel comfortable talk ‘normal’ in all meetings.
  • Rename. Some words are too vague. Discuss in a team and break down a concept to specific words or something that sounds more human or familiar to everyone. This will also help to prioritise action instead of chasing big-concept-words.
  • Review. It’s good to change every-day talk, but if corporate communication is still full of buzzwords, it won’t get much credibility or meaning, and therefore, attention.

The key is to keep things simple, clear, genuine and human. Say it like you mean it. Say it if it means something.