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HUNG UP ON JOB TITLES

Posted by Tim Bryce on February 25, 2013

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– Which would you chose, better wages or a better job title?

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Not long ago I went to the drive-thru window at our local bank to make a deposit. I was dutifully greeted by the attendent who I had chatted with before on numerous occasions. On this particular visit, the attendant, who I judged to be in her mid-twenties, was delighted to inform me she was now the “Head Cashier.” I congratulated her on the promotion, finished my business and departed. Over the next several weeks though, whenever I visited the bank, she made a point of letting me know she was the “Head Cashier” with an air of boasting about her. I presume she did this with all of her customers, that I wasn’t just being singled out. She had even gone so far as to etch a new name plate with her title boldly printed on it. It was important to her that the bank’s customers recognize her authority. Frankly, I just wanted to process my transactions and go about my business. Although I initially commended her on the promotion, I really couldn’t have cared less.

I find job titles in business to be rather amusing. Originally, a job title was intended to denote the type of work a person performed, e.g., doctor, baker, banker, etc. Over the years though some rather avant-garde job titles have emerged which are intended to impress others. For example, we use “Software Engineer” as opposed to a mere “Programmer”; “Human Resources” as opposed to “Personnel”; “Branding” as opposed to “Advertising,” a “Mixologist” as opposed to a “Bartender,” etc. For some reason, the Information Technology field has more than its share of cryptic titles, for example: “New Metrics Analyst,” “Content Engineer,” “E-mail Channel Specialist,” “Metamediary CEO,” “Chief Knowledge Officer,” and “Chief Internet Officer.” I even ran into one entitled, “Webmistress Extraordinaire” (I think this last one is related to “Domestic Goddess”).

If you can’t invent a fancy new title, simply modify an old one by delineating the level of skill or experience required to perform it, such as junior or senior. For example, banks make extensive use of “Vice Presidents,” a much coveted title. Yet there are many permeations of it, such as Junior VP, Associate VP, Senior VP, Managing VP, Executive VP, etc. Banks make extensive use of such titles as opposed to paying a decent salary. Nonetheless, some people believe meaningless job titles are more important and will help them secure a better job in the future.

Even in nonprofit organizations, titles become rather important to people. I have seen people boast they were President of their Homeowner Association, VP of Membership for clubs, and Secretary or Treasurer of other groups. They relish such titles as it denotes they are a person of authority and should be taken seriously. Now I will admit such titles are important to define areas of responsibility, but there is little point in having such titles if you do not perform anything in return. Such meaningless job titles ultimately demean the office you hold and the organization you are supposed to be serving.

As for me, job titles tell me a lot about a person’s ego and his/her insecurities, particularly if they boast about it, such as the “Head Cashier.” In reality, most people are less interested in the job title you hold and more interested if you can perform the work advertised.

Executives couldn’t care less about job titles. To illustrate, I remember an instance where an Information Technology Manager was given an assignment to complete an important high profile project for his company. Needing programmers for the project, he sought permission from the executive committee to hire some more. In the end, the committee granted his request and told him he could hire as many people as he wanted, and give them any job title they desired, but when the project was completed, fire them all. It might have seemed cruel, but at least they got an impressive job title to post on their resumes.

As for me, if the choice is between a fancy new job title or better wages, you can keep the job title. I know who I am, what I am capable of doing, and am certainly not hung up on job titles.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


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14 Responses to “HUNG UP ON JOB TITLES”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    An A.M. of Switzerland wrote…

    “Perfect timing. Just 5 minutes ago I discussed with my wife about the fact my direct manager proposes to promote me to junior manager within my company. A promotion that I do not want, as I know in advance that it won’t bring me any of the following:

    – better projects (those are the projects)
    – better salary (on the contrary)

    But will give me the following instead:

    – less free time (evenings and weekends on-call)
    – more responsibilities
    – more stress
    – less money… yes: in my company, part of the bonus is calculated according to the attendance to social events (which I do not do with the only exception of the end of summer barbecue)

    I totally agree with you about the choice between wage and job title: when I go to the supermarket the cashier expects me to get my wallet and pay with money, not with a shiny business card which states “Manager”. I think she couldn’t care less 😉

    As usual, thanks for sharing your ideas.”

    Like

  2. Wayne Brown said

    The question always remains….”why do you want the job?” Too often we lust after positions because they are associated with perceived power when, in effect, like most jobs, they have little real power at all. Even the CEO is answerable to someone over time. Jobs have only one singular characteristics which is good for us…they match our skillset and our interest. When that happens, a synergy takes place and that person performs in that job like no one else has….not because of power but because of their own interest and drive in making things happen. Good piece, Tim! ~WB

    Like

  3. Tim Bryce said

    A J.D. of Land O Lakes, Florida wrote…

    “Love it Tim.

    My first run-in with amusing titles was at TWA in the early 90’s, early in my career. I was hired as a graphic designer, low-man in the department. My title was much more colorful: Supervisor of Advertising and Market Development. Huh? I quickly learned that Supervisor was a middle management level wherein you supervise only yourself. Manager of same Dept was my immediate superior, and Director was the top tier.

    However, I currently work for a firm that chases gov’t contracts, and here where it gets silly – you have to acquiesce to the RFP’s requirements. So anyone in the company could have any number of titles so long as the skills match with the requirements. Today, Graphic Designer. Tomorrow, Creative Director. Next week, Art Director. Regardless, it’s the same job and that’s really all that matters.”

    Like

  4. Tim Bryce said

    An M.C. of Worthington, Ohio wrote…

    “Tim, how about those obscure designations after a lot of peoples names? They are worse than titles.”

    Like

  5. Tim Bryce said

    A B.H. of Boulder, Colorado wrote…

    Of course. TITLES are cheap, salary isn’t. Doesn’t cost the company much to buy a person 500 new business cards and put a placard on their door or desk. Costs a lot more to actually PAY them for having the new title though.

    How many instances over the years have you seen a CEO or other high exec in one company be responsible for lousy decisions, financial issues, “resign for personal reasons” and then be hired by another large company for a similar or more demanding and authoritative position – at even more obscene salary levels?

    When I worked for L3 Communications (my last job before “retiring” and I was laid off which I CHOSE to interpret as retirement because of my age and the reality that jobs were just not there) the New York folks hired a new “President and CEO” of the Group (or whatever it was we called ourselves within the larger organization). He was a retired 4-star army General. In fact, his “executive assistant” was a former 3-star general who had worked for him on active duty. AND, every piece of paper he signed, every e-mail he sent out was signed with his name, the next line was “President, CEO” and the next line was “General, United States Army (retired).” Now, the fact that he was a retired General was probably nice, but COMPLETELY irrelevant to his position as President of the group and even our business. And, in fact, he USED his General-ship inappropriately. I recall a specific incident where a retired Rear Admiral (2-star) was hired by the company for a specific function and would be reporting to the General. He summoned the 2-star to his office, and started the conversation by – “How many stars did you have on active duty?” – intimating to the “junior” flag officer his position in the food chain. The RADM resigned shortly thereafter and went to work for an even larger defense contractor that didn’t make a big to-do about his PAST ranks, but rather valued what he brought to the company TODAY – and he’s still with them and has even moved up in responsibility in that organization. He’ll never make CEO or President of that company, but he WILL have an important function and contribute to the health and well-being of the company and the people who work with and for him. (And, FYI, this is not about the Army-Navy difference, it’s about the difference in the way a person views their own self-worth and importance.)

    Plus, there are always the “over-achievers” who will give you MORE than you expect, and somehow end up defying the odds and being kept on the payroll after the project because they have valuable skills you can put against the next “wildfire” you have to put out, and you KNOW there WILL be the next crisis, it’s just a matter of time.”

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    A U.V. of Largo, Florida wrote…

    “A classic example is Ed Norton saying he is a “Sanitary Engineer”!! Titles don’t mean a thing if you can’t do the thing, do da, do da!!!”

    Like

  7. Tim Bryce said

    An M.K. of Tampa, Florida wrote…

    “Years ago when I worked in banking and titles were proliferate but raises were small, I always made note that when I went to purchase something they were not interested in my business card only my cash/check! 🙂 “

    Like

  8. Tim Bryce said

    A D.B. of New York, New York wrote…

    “Show me the money! I used to think I wanted a career but it turns out that what I really wanted was paychecks. I find it better to become an expert in a field and be known to be very good at it than to work my way up to a title in a job where I might not be as effective or even happy.

    There is an old saying that goes “Call me anything – except late for dinner” “

    Like

  9. Tim Bryce said

    A C.W. of Atlanta, Georgia wrote…

    “Tim, good informative and thought provoking article. Many organizations create titles that are not in alignment with the role one actually does. I believe in many cases the title justifies your salary with the organization. In many cases, the salary is much lower than what is expected for the title. The titles in my opinion misused the most are: Program and Project Manager, Lead, Deputy and Senior. Many of the roles are not in charge of any program, project or task order for that matter. Many people don’t need titles to do a great job, they only need respect, appreciation, a fair and reasonable salary for what they do.”

    Like

  10. Roger Hannemann said

    Re: Titles – When I first went to work for what was then Standard Oil of NY I was taken under the wing of an ex merchant marine engineer who gave me a couple of pieces of advice: “You ain’t been promoted til they pay you more and you anin’t been demoted til they pay you less”.
    “Don’t ever take anything apart to find out what makes it run so good”.

    Like

  11. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “It’s my observation that job titles are often given out instead of raises, as a reward for good work. Title may impress some, but they can’t be spent like cash.

    I worked as a Quality Assurance Coordinator for years. At one place, the Director decided to restructure, hiring one new employee as the QA Coordinator and re-titling the rest of us as QA Associates. No one really cared about the title change, but we suggested that it was more cost effective to call the new employee Manager, order one set of new business cards and avoid having to print new cards for the 25 existing coordinators.”

    Like

  12. I understand why there is a need though for a number of reasons. As you stated in your comments here – job titles are (for the most part) cheap. And if it makes the worker/employee feel valued, what is the harm. Secondly – people want to know – they’ll actually ask for your job title. Recently, at my husband’s company Christmas party, I was introducing myself to one of the honored guests as “Carol____The wife of______.” Then I began to say my husband’s position in the company and came up blank. I turned to my husband’s boss who happened to be standing nearby and asked, “_____would you be so kind as to tell me my husband’s title with the company?” To which he rattled off a rather impressive title. The lady was satisfied and I found it very amusing. He worked there over a year and I had no idea what my husband’s title was or if he even had one. She wasn’t the only one to ask me that night what my husband’s title was. People expect it. Lastly – I too am not impressed with title especially and in particular when people throw them at you (I find M.D.’s to be most annoying in that way). However, I think it is a necessary evil, if you will, in today’s society.

    Like

  13. Tim Bryce said

    A J.D. of Dunedin, Florida wrote…

    “YOU WROTE: In reality, most people are less interested in the job title you hold and more interested if you can perform the work advertised.

    Definitely true from the service to the customer perspective,”

    Like

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