But “Sir”​ looks so good on your Business Card!

What’s in a Title?

Neil Pitt

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President at Speed Digital

“Debatable Words of Wisdom

My last post received a few shares and some generous head nodding agreement. I thought I’d write something a little more controversial to see if I could get some traction with the “debatable” component.

At a previous position I was told by a person of authority that I should hand out titles on a whim and keep pay raises and bonuses to a minimum. “People respond to fancy job titles and it doesn’t cost us a thing!” was his logic. At first I bought into this concept as it seemed logical and after all, my compensation was directly tied to the bottom line. As I have matured and become wiser the obvious flaws of this philosophy have become blatantly apparent.

Significant titles date back to the Middle Ages where knighthood was used to acknowledge stellar performance during battle and Knights were considered lower nobility. Job Titles offer significant value in identifying departments, specialty and level of experience. A narrow mind-set that job titles are insignificant and cheap has caused ambiguity in hiring and a lack of clarity with resumes.

Job titles often don’t account for the size of a company, level of responsibility or span of control. The Chief Executive Officer of Progressive Insurance and the President/CEO of Smith & Associates Brokerage may have some similar job duties but the level responsibility and “a day in the life” are dramatically different. Signature authority and requirements are no doubt the same but I wouldn’t call Tricia Griffith (Progressive CEO) if I had a problem with my insurance bill but conversely may call Bob Smith, CEO of Smith & Associates with an expectation that he would take care of the problem.

One of the most widely abused titles is Vice President (VP), especially in the banking industry. Since I have close personal friends in the banking industry and some that even hold this title I’ll phrase my concerns as a series of questions in hopes that I won’t offend anyone. Is Vice President at the branch level really appropriate? Is there a difference between a Branch Manager and Vice President? It seems as though we’ve created additional titles to differentiate branch and corporate, so now we have Executive Vice President? It’s not just the banking industry that has proliferated job title confusion. Tech Start-ups that have 5 employees and two of them have “C” level titles, CEO and CTO are also to blame. Really you are 22 years old and you’re the Chief Technology Officer? In many cases Technical Support Associate is a more relevant title for these individuals.

The obvious answer to this dilemma during the hiring process is to use common sense, ask the correct questions during the interview process to understand experience levels based on real world examples not assumptions based on titles on a resume. So what’s the harm in being carefree with titles and does it cost anything? As long as an employee is content and planning to stay with your company then the title is an acknowledgement of their value to the organization. Incorrect or over-inflated titles can be very costly when an employee decides to move on or is poached due to that incorrect title. Many employees leverage an incorrect title to receive the actual job that goes with that title at another company even though they are very unqualified. When the VP of Operations leaves your small company to take a position at a much larger company as VP of Operations with a hefty raise and you are left to replace that person ask yourself, “Was the title appropriate and did it cost me anything?”.

Generation X and Millennials have different views on titles. As a Gen Xer I couldn’t wait to get my business cards printed when I was promoted to IT Manager. I had worked hard for years to receive the validation that went along with the title and getting an office was the icing on the cake! Most Millennials don’t carry or want business cards and an open work environment is preferred to stuffy offices with pretentious furniture.

Neil R. Pitt — Thought Provoker

Non standard descriptive titles are becoming more prevalent and to me are a breath of fresh air. A few years ago I met Mike Yager from Mid-America Motorworks and after exchanging business cards I noticed his title, Chief Cheerleader. After spending just a few minutes with Mike it was easy to see why he had chosen that title and how appropriate it was! I recently received an Email soliciting business and the title in the signature block was one of the reasons that I set-up a meeting to discuss potential opportunities. Paul Spinak of The Marketing Machine used the title Head Mechanic in his Email. Is this his standard title? Did he use it intentionally for me because Speed Digital is an automotive related technology company? Obviously it wouldn’t be used on a resume when looking for a new marketing gig or would it?

So what’s in a title? A rose by any other name…

President at Speed Digital

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Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on January 28, 2017.

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