Some time ago ago I posted a blog about the proliferation of titles in business and I had a really valuable comment from TV presenter and speaker, Art Halai. Arti suggested that there is much more to the use of titles in business and for that matter in general and it is a subject that would repay some discussion.
Lee Thayer, noted US speaker and author, considers that the most important factor for people in the business is the role description. Please note: NOT the JOB description which is too restrictive.
Logically then if the role description has been defined accurately, theoretically there is no need for a title as such. Of course that is not the case in general and titles of all kinds abound especially in the public sector where perceived status can be considered as a reward.
The question is why do people need to have a title? Is it so that others know what they are there for, could it possibly be for reassurance that there function is important or is the basic fact that some people need a title to give them status.
When I started in business a long time ago, status was relatively easy to define. It rested on which canteen you ate in, where you parked your car and did the parking slot have your name on it, was your name (and title) on the door of your office and did your title express your seniority in the company. Question: do you actually have an office?
The matter of canteens is an interesting one. I went at one stage to a subsidiary company on secondment for a period of a few months and was astonished to find that I had been allocated a seat in the mess; not, you will note the canteen. I discovered that lunch in the mess followed a strict routine with a defined pecking order.
Following an obligatory dry sherry, the senior director carved the joint, which was a fixture every day by the way, and seating at the table defined where you were in the aforesaid packing order.
It was all a little surprising to me although I have to say that I soon dropped into the very pleasant routine. However, what on earth had it to do with the effective running of the business?
The fact is that it was all a matter of visible status. When you were invited to join the mess it said that you had arrived and were accepted as important, admittedly in the very small world of that company.
It stands to reason that they were also fixated on title because a title would tell the world who you were and what you did in the company. Status was all-important and because it was a small company (in a small town as well) by comparison with the patent group, they felt that they needed the reassurance of a splendid title.
In essence we need to decide whether a title is merely a status symbol or a genuine assistance to the smooth operation of the business. Does it add or detract from the individual?
The question then is: what is more important, the title or the role? Even more so, what is the purpose of the role and how does it fit into the culture and the strategy of the business? Moreover does it fit into the above?
Taken all in all, it seems that titles can be used as a description of what the role implies while no frequently actually describing the role which outs us into a raft of complications. I worked for a while at Renold Limited where all “job titles” were descriptive of the function and that made life simpler to some extent at least.
In the end the best solution seemed to be stick around and you will suddenly discover who to see if you needed something which we called experience.
That wonderful book, The Puritan Gift by Ken and Will Hopper describes it as Domain Knowledge and that encapsulates the whole problem. The longer you are with us the more knowledgeable you become about how the business works and accordingly a short period of acclimatisation in all significant department of the company can save a vast amount of time during the working week.
In general, I think that I rest my case. However hard we try titles, role descriptions and so on will exhibit their amazing ability to stick around so accept the inevitable and go with the flow. It will win in the end anyway!