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The hard truth by 'Z':The right title for the right job

Separating business issues from ego problems

by on
in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

It’s always great to tell one of my managers that I’m giving him a promotion. We talk pay, office size, staffing—all that fun stuff.

I might give him everything he wants and more, and after a few minutes he’ll be giddy with excitement. But then he’ll ask, “What will my new title be?”

It’s easy to understand why he cares. He’s thinking long term. If he leaves the company, he wants to be able to impress headhunters and potential employers with a fancy title. It can be an instant credibility builder, a simple way to let the world know just where he ranks on the importance scale.

A top priority?

The irony is that inside this organization, titles mean nothing. In fact, they mean less than nothing—they’re downright misleading!

I take the blame for that. While I realize that managers want to feel pride whenever they pull out their business cards, I like to think that there are more substantive ways for them to measure their worth. I’d rather they focus on results and not jockey for status by boasting about some big impressive title.

But everyone deserves a title that accurately reflects his job and the authority he’s been given. A people manager should be called a manager. An executive who controls a budget should be at least a vice president. Sorry, but that’s about as scientific as I get.

It’s not that I set out to give people imprecise titles. I just don’t like to spend time on perception when reality beckons. What’s more, after years of flattening out of the corporate hierarchy (both here and at companies across the United States), the traditional differences among managers, directors, VPs and senior VPs start to disappear.

An unhealthy obsession

When people start worrying about the accouterments of success, I get antsy. Do you go after the baubles on the Christmas tree, or do you care about Christmas?

I’ve had people come into my office and say, “I’m not happy with my title here.” Then we talk a few minutes, and it soon becomes clear the title isn’t the real issue. It’s often a symptom of something else, such as not feeling challenged enough or not getting enough feedback from management.

The toughest part for me, or any executive, is to determine whether we’re dealing with a business problem or an ego problem. If it’s a business issue, then I’m all ears. The manager might come to me and say, “From a strategic point of view, a new title will help me land more business faster by making it easier to get meetings with the right people.” That’s a slam-dunk argument, and I’m usually happy to oblige.

If you’re unhappy with your title, make a sound case for what you want. Don’t just whine about it. Very few bosses make it their goal to satisfy employees’ egos. But they do make it their goal to make money—and that should be the focus of your presentation.

 “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 20-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $10 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.

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