More death to job titles

Death to job titles

A while back I wrote a post about killing off job titles. I think they’re a waste of time and contribute nothing to our productivity, creativity or happiness at work. In fact, job titles can be the source of a lot of disputes and bickering in the workplace.

Matt Cardwell of Quicken Loans (a home loan lender based in the US) read this and liked it so much that he decided to issue a fatwa on job titles in his department. Here he explains why:

We never used to have titles on the Marketing Team at Quicken Loans because we always prided ourselves as having a marked anti-corporate and non-hierarchical culture. Actually, we did have titles, but everyone was called a “Marketing Manager.” So it was kind of a forced equality and no one EVER even talked about titles. But as the team grew from a few dozen people to over fifty, HR decided we needed some “consistency”, especially for purposes of external salary comping. So against our better judgment we relented and started creating a bunch of silly titles like: Marketing Coordinator, Marketing Program Manager, Project Manager, Jr. Project Manager, Sr. Project Manager, etc.

Well, it only took about 12 months for our brilliant decision to come back and bite us in the ass. Needless to say, it created all kinds of unnecessary noise within the team as people started to grumble about why a person who had only been here for 12 months just got promoted to Sr. Project Manager when another person who had been here for three years was still a Project Manager. I got so fed up with the divisiveness of it all that I just decided to banish titles altogether yesterday morning. So I went looking for some inspiration and Googled “job titles” or something to that effect and found your blog post from December. It was EXACTLY what I was looking for. So I dropped it into an email, added my two cents and started a revolt. Initially it was just within my 20 person eCommerce Marketing team, but it snowballed over the course of the afternoon to include most of the broader marketing team.

That is music to my ears and in response to Matt’s challenge, people got very creative. Here are some of the new titles:

  • Royal Storyteller & Propaganda Minister
  • Supreme Challenger of the Status Quo & Wicked Web Site Innovator
  • Mastermind of Possibilities, Visual Linguist, and Czar of the High Fiber Revolution
  • Flasher
  • Conceptologist
  • Pixelardo da Vinci

You can see more titles in my previous post on this.

How did Matt inspire people to do this? Here’s the email he sent out:

Okay, team, so I want each one of you to take 15 minutes today to really think hard about what YOU DO and what MAKES YOU HAPPY at work and create a title for yourself that expresses who you are and your impact on the business and your team mates. Forget about what Salary.com or some HR person said your title is or should be. Forget about what you get paid, how many years of experience you have, or what other people’s “titles” are in comparison to you. Tell us WHAT YOU DO and make that your new “title”.

As of this morning, traditional titles on the Website Marketing Team are DEAD. D-E-A-D. Somehow over the past year people have become WAY too caught up in who has what title. So we’re going to end the madness today.

If this scares you, makes you feel like we’ve taken something away or makes you wonder how your resume will look without that title-that-really- never-does-justice-to-you-and-your-talents-anyway, ask yourself when was the last time someone called you by your title? When was the last time Todd Lunsford or Bill Emerson or Dan Gilbert called you by your title? Worried about how this might impact future compensation? Don’t. Numbers and money follow, they do not lead. Kick ass at whatever you do, and the wealth will eventually flow to you. I’ve seen it happen again and again in my career … and especially here.

If you are concerned about someone not recognizing how important you are because you no longer have a standard title, then here’s your chance to create a title for yourself that will convey exactly how important you are. And because you are creating it, it will be all yours. No one else will have that title. Think of the conversations your new title will start with complete strangers. Think of the opportunities it can create for you in terms of expressing who you are, not what someone CALLS you.

“But what if I don’t like my description in three months …” you ask? What if what I do CHANGES? Well, then you can change your description. It’s that simple. No one ever stays the same … we are all growing … so let your “title” do the same when it’s time.

Here’s your chance. You have until the end of the day to let us all know who you are. Have fun, be creative, be humorous, but above all, be real and true. Remember, this will be on your e-mail signature, so please be aware of that.

I can’t wait to see what all of you come up with.

DEATH TO TITLES!

Matt

Matt Cardwell
Idea Salesman, Energy Focuser and People Unleasher
eCommerce Marketing Team
Quicken Loans
My title challenges your title to a duel. I predict a draw. – Me

I had to know more, so I emailed Matt with a few follow-up questions, and here’s an update from him on the fatwa on job titles:

You had a couple of questions around the titles Fatwa from your previous e-mail. One question was about whether we had abolished titles company-wide. So far only the Web Marketing Team and the Idea Lab (our creative team – basically an in-house agency for our advertising production) took up my challenge. Not surprisingly, the team that actually got the title “promotions” that started this whole thing opted not to join us in our little revolution. I threw the challenge out to them, but I haven’t really seen anyone take up the torch.

I do know that our CMO, Todd Lunsford was extremely supportive of the no-title revolution. As I mentioned, we really only started using titles recently for comping purposes. But even there, they are generally not very useful for the more specialized people on my team (usability pros, search engine optimizers, etc), because until very recently, Salary.com didn’t make distinctions between interactive marketers (which are in high demand) and traditional marketers. As an organization, we’ve been pretty ambivalent about titles. Most of our Sr. Leadership Team and many of our team members simply have no title on their email signature, or just identify themselves with their team. For example: Joe Smith, Web Marketing Team

So I think this will still spread … we won a couple battles, but we still have a war going on. It will come. And I’ll keep preaching.

This is fantastic! I’m adding Quicken Loans to my list of “Companies that get it.” And I’m not alone – they recently placed second in Fortune Magazine’s Best Company to Work list, one behind Google.

Your take

What’s your take? Is your workplace ready to issue its own fatwa on job titles? Or do you see some value in having a “real” title on your business card? Please write a comment, I’d really like to know.

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21 thoughts on “More death to job titles”

  1. Alex – Love you post and your thought process!

    Best part of throwing titles out the window is that we live up to our title.

    I’ll bet you the “Wicked Web Site Innovator” holds him or herself up to a much higher standard and is much more inspired about their work than that of a “website programmer” or “webmaster” would.

    Chris Young

  2. Oh how I’d love to fight this war! I have an employee that is so concerned about their title not being correct, that I’ve had to go to HR on repeated occasions in an effort to make the correction. The result? His title is “accurate” in his mind, but has NOTHING to do with his job!

    In reviewing the rest of my team, I think there is another factor to look at in fighting this war. If you have unhappy employees, like I do, then you will not get very positive results. You may get very sarcastic job titles as people refuse to take this to heart. Not all of my employees are unhappy, but one in particular is not suited to this job. He knows this as well as I do, but he hasn’t left. I’m not sure why that is, but I can only follow company protocol for failure to do the job or behave in accordance with corporate policies and he knows those boundaries well. Meanwhile, some activity like this may turn out positively for some, but his negative attitude drags it down.

  3. Alex:

    That was the most interesting, exciting article I’ve read about job titles in a very long time! YES, death to titles! Like religion, they are a source of bickering, conflict, jealousy, envy and bitterness. What a great manager that guy from Quicken turned out to be! There he is, encouraging his people to come up with their own titles!

    How awesome is that? I wish when I was in Corporate America, I had a manager like that. Unfortunately they weren’t. They were too scared for their own jobs so they didn’t dare think creatively, for fear of someone under them taking their job(s).

    I really, really enjoyed this article. I’m going to stumble this becuase more people need to be aware that titles aren’t very helpful and if Corporate America (or Corporate Europe or whatever) is to regain the trust and loyalty of their employees, they need to be given a chance to shine.

    Excellent!

  4. Love the idea, not so sure about the execution. Sort of along the same lines as “flat” organizations. Never seen one, only orgs with variably sized pyramids. As long as everyone knows who is responsible for doing what and people can get things done, I’m all for it. The trouble is twofold: in large, complex and heavily matrixed companies, you need to be able to find the people who you need to involve to solve problems. A starting point is, of course, knowing what someone’s title is. I’m not talking about a 100 person dot com but companies over 10K people. If you can explain a bit how that would work, I’m all ears.

  5. When you start thinking about your “employees” as people or team members rather than “resources” or “FTE”s it becomes easier to think about how org charts and titles make little sense. If someone takes your team to a different level of performace quickly change their title to official ass kicker of ______ or ceiling breaker of productivity.

    Coach

  6. Chris: Yep! I know for myself that being a Chief Happiness Officer is waaay more inspiring than being an “author and speaker”!

    Scott: That’s a great point – if people are already unhappy at work this will not make them happy.

    And that one unhappy employee: I have to wonder why anyone would event want a job, that does nothing for them except pay the bills…

    I’m reminded of Hal Rosenbluth (more at https://positivesharing.com/2003/01/book-review-the-customer-comes-second/).

    He put the happiness of his employees first and then asked the question “How can you fire anyone, when you’re committed to happiness at work?”

    His answer: If people don’t fit in and never will, you have an obligation as a manager to fire them, because they’re not only unhappy themselves, they’re dragging everyone down with them.

    Of course firing someone can be an administrative nightmare if they’re not actually misbehaving…

    What do you think?

    Stephen: Glad you liked it! And yes, too many managers are more involved with CYA than with making their people happy at work.

    Rick: Great question. How do people find each other and make connections in large organizations where everybody doesn’t already know everybody else.

    I’m pretty sure that even when the org charts and titles are in place, people still find each other more randomly and serendipitously – just like in life.

    In fact, I’m adding org charts to the list of things we can safely do without – even in large organizations.

    I often ask people to name one instance, where the corporate org chart helped them do their job better – an I still haven’t heard a good example. I could ask the same thing about job titles.

    Maybe I’m wrong – I haven’t worked in a large organization in 15 years :o) Do you have an example?

    Coach: What’s an FTE?

    And I agree – we should treat people as responsible adult human beings. Treating them like resources only makes people unhappy at work.

  7. Alexander,

    Yes, org charts are never worth the paper they’re printed on. In our company, a global contract manufacturer based in Europe with locations throughout the world, we have people working in every kind of discipline: plant management (and a variety of plants at that), finance, marketing, sales, R&D, general management, engineering, maintenance, etc. 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.

    Thanks for listening (or reading).

    Rick

  8. Everyone;

    I’m no longer in Corporate America, having left in the mid-1990s to pursue my love of speaking but having been there for several years (16 years on Wall Street), I find this conversation to be quite fascinating.

    You (Alexander) are getting some very excellent questions, adding tremendous value to the ongoing conversation. They are asking you to help them solve a problem without diluting the effectiveness of the company’s organization as a whole. While the idea of giving ourselves (themselves, really) a self-made title, there remain real questions of who answers to who and who needs to be contacted should there be a conflict or problem?

    The question that is now percolating in my mind is: Will giving ourselves a title lead to further confusion? Or will it lead to a stronger, happier organization? My initial belief would be that it would lead to a stronger, happier workforce becuase everyone feels good about themselves.

    This is a great conversation, I’m very much enjoying it.

  9. Really liked the post – I too feel that creative job titles can be good in the right environment, but I’d advise really considering your environment before using them, as it’s possible they can backfire as well. It depends on the company culture, and on the individual.

    If you’ve got a healthy organization with people who want to be there and really commit themselves to the work, those self-titles can be fun and can give a chance for self-expression in the workplace. I’d say those are prerequisites, though – without that positive atmosphere, specific job titles become more important.

    Poor management in an organization, a lack of obvious career paths, or general career worries such as the economic outlook, can cause employees to be more concerned with establishing career progress that looks good on a resume. While it’s fun to think of yourself as an “Office Superhero and Chief Firefighter”, that title doesn’t have substance outside of the organization. And if someone is genuinely unhappy with their workplace, such a title might actually backfire and cause resentment.

    That said… I’ll admit that I used to have a title like that at a company I was formerly with. My director made up the titles and doled them out, however. Every time I looked at my business cards, I’d smile – and I still have a few. Being a Super Poster Extraordinaire didn’t get me my next job when the company went belly up, but I enjoyed that title in it’s own time, and it made me feel pretty good to know that my boss thought that highly of me.

  10. Job titles are important in my opinion. They should be concise, professional and define what the person does. For my profession, sales, it is a huge influencer. If my business card says sales manager, the person I am selling to will take me more seriously than if it says sales representative. This is a fact that cannot be disputed, even if some of you out there say otherwise. Studies have been done.

    Also, as a previous poster said, it helps people within the organization know who to go to about what. I despise the list of silly job titles that people came up with from Quicken Loans. If job titles aren’t important, then why have people spend time trying to be clever and come up with something they think is cool? If I got an email from someone and in the signature it said they were a Conceptologist or a Wicked Website Innovator, I would not take them or their company seriously, and I’m a young guy who is hip to making the workplace more fun. I don’t even work 9-5, I work part time sales and tour in a rock band. Imagine how more traditionalists would view these unprofessional titles.

  11. I tried to reach the HR department of a very large company.
    The person who answered the phone read from a paper and told me the department was now called:
    “Talent and Human Capital Services”
    I am disgusted with companies that allow a newly promoted person, who wants to put their brand on the
    department,change the name like that. It makes me lose respect. Am I wrong??? Has anyone ever seen that department name? Does anyone have any clever comments about that name?

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