Job titles

When I investigate the culture of a company, one of the first things I look at is how jobs are ordered and titled. I’ve become quite keen on the organogram, using it as a map to see how easily I can navigate the interior and understand the intended relationships between employees. Many organograms look clear as I start off down the path, but become misleading the further in I go.

This signals a gap between what Management and HR would like the organisational structure to be, and what it really is. Excused by the phrase, “this is the structure we’re working towards.” Which means that Management hasn’t found a way to exit or repurpose an individual who doesn’t fit – either for skill or attitude. 

Of the two, skills lack is easier to address – with a willing employee. But what do you do when someone who manifestly dislikes their job, puts no effort into collaborating with colleagues or lacks respect for the Leadership? The best treatment is to give them a clear redirect on the required behaviour change, and a short timescale within which to achieve it.

The worst way – to address either the skills or attitude gap – is to change the employee’s job title. It’s a ‘fudge’ that never works. At best the Manager is happy to have been seen to take action, and the employee is relieved to still be in work. But, like a sugar rush, the positive effect is soon replaced with demoralisation on both sides. I know, because equal numbers of people tell me “I should have found another job at that point” and “We should have exited her immediately”.

The impact on the organogram is clear. Its value is undermined by a peppering of non-tiles or half titles:

  • Deputy Sales Officer
  • Senior PR Executive
  • Temporary Assistant Plant Manager
  • Director of Office Services

In most of these, the qualification in the title is the giveaway. The inappropriate use of the title Director signals Management panic. And now there’s a further filter being applied with the arrival of ‘funky’ titles from the world of tech-based start-ups:

  • Customer Ninja 
  • Sales Stormtrooper
  • Chief Happiness Officer

In fairness, little of this nonsense has yet impacted companies in African. Just as well, because we’ve already got plenty of clearing up to do!

The reality is that flawed structures and false titles are dishonest. They create confusion and conflict, and they leave residual bad feeling. When coupled with an illogical remuneration policy, they represent an emotional time-bomb inside the organisation. 

It takes real courage, a sense of fairness and a gritty persistence to properly address the problem.  So, clearly, this must be a Leadership responsibility

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa

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