Title - badge, burden or bore



Humans have an innate desire to sort things, and then to order things, and in order to monitor that order; to label things. It helps provide structure to our lives, enables learning ( program learning) , provides a platform for progress ( good or bad) and ultimately gets things done (for better or worse). Life without a lot of order and labels will be, so they lead us to believe…. chaotic.

Or would it?

There are those who wonder if order has not become a little too saturated, too constrained, and in particular in our working lives, too limiting. If we are restricting human potential and functional possibility by boxing ourselves and others into labels known as job titles, and by this I mean containing or limiting a persons potential by an interpretation of the title.

I have been doing a lot of research and reading over the last three years about post heroic leadership and the decline of great man theory in modern day western business structures. The initial findings of the Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry currently underway here in Australia have been no great surprise to anyone who who has had a bit of a look under the hood of banks and financial services companies which are traditionally run via top down hierarchy. Front-line employees have been trying to wave warning flags up the line for years, only to have them ripped out of their hands and tossed at their feet by organisational rules, politics and cultural decay. The old line “you are speaking out of turn, beyond the remit of your role”.

By comparison it is easy to see how the world can function on momentum built by collaboration as opposed to ‘top down’ instruction and that this momentum can create real results. Social media as a driver for mass movement and the rise of social “influencers” to move product and services over traditional forms of advertising and public relations are one example. The gig economy and the vast numbers of businesses that now make money by “matching” work required with roaming consultants is another. The world of work is certainly changing.

So how is the world of job titles and descriptions keeping up?

A whole new generation is creating a solution to this, with the rise of “bullshit” titles and jobs becoming a thing, descriptor titles such as consultant and advisor finding their way back into the working lexicon and some organisations advocating for fewer or no titles at all.

That is a lot of disruption going on in the title space.

So, how does a person, a human being with feelings stay upright in all this noise. I assume if your career exists within a single industry, it is much easier than if you cross multiple industries and are multi disciplinary. It is risky in a world where the statistics tell us that corporate workers in Australia will face redundancy at least once if not twice in their lives. How prepared are these workers for the day they wake up and their business card is irrelevant?

Getting another job is one solution to those post redundancy income woes, yet the title that comes with that job may be a sore point. I have seen 'General Managers’ move companies (by choice or because they had to) to find themselves in a great role, yet be disappointed that it comes with a perceived lowly ‘Senior Manager’ title or similar. They eventually acclimatize to the new workplace but will always chafe about it until they get to the title they deem to be appropriate to their self worth.

That ingrained habit of defining self worth by job title….shocker... its no wonder we have problems in the workforce.

The future

I am not sure zero titles work either but I have to say I do like the tendency to return to “doing” titles, which help others immediately understand a role such as Teacher, Programmer, Adviser etc. As for silly titles, I get the point but they lose their polish after a bit [having said that I do rather aspire to the role of Chief Bullshit Detector]……..

Since I set up on my own I have changed my job title just about every other month looking to see if one appeals over another, from big hefty titles such as Managing Director, to no title at all to variations of the different contracts I have worked on. At the moment I have settled on a descriptor - Consultant and Adviser. It seems to be the best fit for my consulting life. Who knows what it will be next week and that’s totally fine, it can move with me.

Maybe that is the answer then to the question of titles in the future after-all. The title changes to suit you, not the other way around.

Think well


November 2018