In a previous post I argued for doing away with job titles. They’re rarely relevant, they say very little about what you do and they can lead to internal competition and bickering.
Now, a fatwa on job titles may sound great in theory, but how could it work in practice in a large organization?
Rick asked some great questions in a comment:
I’m trying to understand the difference between calling someone “The guy in charge of fixing things in the plant when they’re broken” vs. “Maintenance Manager” or the like. The former is long, the latter is short. If you say he or she can self-title as “Chief Fixer” well that’s still a title, isn’t it?
Now supposing we have one opening for a Production Engineer (actual title) for a plant in Georgia and another opening for a Process Engineer (also actual title) for a plant in North Carolina. Two distinct positions, though both engineers and both working in a plant environment. If I want to apply for one of those positions, it’s valuable for me to know I can discard the one and not the other based on my knowledge of what the jobs are in general and how they link to my skills, yes?
Several years ago, I worked for a (now bankrupt) company that worked in the dot com space. The company was the product of a multitude of large and small mergers. At some point, there were over 117 job titles in the company as one of the merged entities, which itself was just a conglomeration of small mom and pop dot coms, never streamlined titles in the organization. The result? Absolute confusion. And, as I say, the company is bankrupt (for a variety of reasons, of course, not just titles).
Let’s go back to the example of the company I currently work for and the concept of the matrix. You suggest that people find each other “more randomly and serendipitously.” That’s terrific…unless there are deadlines to meet, markets to pursue and stiff competition. Then, I want to know who to include on the team *now* in order to get the work done. Offer me a way that happens without at least a cursory glance of people/positions/titles and I’m interested. That means knowing who is available in Europe, Asia, the Americas across a variety of business groups and units, with a population of over 20,000 employees. Random isn’t going to cut it.
As you see, I’m still not convinced, but I’m willing to keep the dialogue going as I’m intrigued and really want to understand how this works on a practical (not abstract) level.
Good question! If there are no formal job titles, how will you find, say, all the engineers with a certain background? And how do you handle the chaos that comes with people having no job titles or choosing their own?
I have some thoughts on this, but I’d love to know what you think. Can large organizations live without formal job titles? How would this work in practice? What would the organization gain or lose?