Oswald Letter

What’s in a Job Title?

People often get hung up on titles. I must admit that they’ve never meant much to me. I really don’t care what name you want to attach to what you do, so I’ve been pretty liberal over the years about giving people the titles that they want.

PressureBut in many companies, titles bring with them status, and status often brings certain perks. Maybe it’s a reserved parking spot or, my personal favorite, a key to the executive washroom. Executive washroom? It’s a bathroom, folks. It has a toilet, a sink, some soap, and something to dry your hands with. Why would anyone care if they happen to urinate next to the CEO? It makes no sense to me, but I digress.

So titles are important to people for various reasons, but I suspect that one of the biggest reasons people get hung up on a title is because they equate it with compensation. See if this sounds familiar: An employee walks into your office with a handful of papers. The first words out of his mouth are, “I’ve been doing some research that I’d like to share with you.”

You know the rest of the story. The research he has is some salary data that he pulled off the Internet. Of course, the research will show that based on his title he should be making much more than what he is being paid. And, after sharing his data and making what he believes is an iron-clad argument, he asks for a raise.

Now the ball is back in your court. You can cave or you can consider the facts. In my experience, what the average person has not done is look at things like job duties, years of experience in the position, size of company, educational background, specialized training, geographic location, etc. He just finds an average salary or a salary range and assumes that’s what he should be paid. As long as the data shows that he should be making more, it’s solid information.

If you’re paying people fairly, you’ll usually find that there are some flaws in the data they’re providing and can demonstrate why their current compensation is representative of the job they do. Once in a while, you will discover that, indeed, someone is not being paid fairly for what they do. Then it’s your job to rectify the situation.

You might be thinking that if I were more judicious with the titles I hand out, I wouldn’t have to deal with this problem. That might be true in some cases, but I’d argue that I would still have to face the occasional employee who wants to make the case for higher pay based on a job description. And as long as I’m paying people fairly, I don’t mind having that conversation about compensation.

Bottom line is that I think about titles differently. I believe that a title can be a real motivator to some people. Maybe it’s because they can tell their moms that they have a really snazzy title. Or they can impress people at cocktail receptions with their fancy monikers. I really don’t know or care, but if it helps you feel better about what you do, I’m all for it.

If it makes you feel good to be called New Idea Genius instead of Product Development Manager, I’m good with that. If you like the ring of Building Engineer instead of Custodian, knock yourself out. You can be my Building Engineer. I’ve even run across the title Marketing Czar on a business card. Who cares? I’m much more concerned about what you do and how you do it than what your title is.

In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about? What is the job that you’re performing and how well are you doing it? The title is just something that you put on your business card. I share a title with the most powerful man on the face of the earth, President Obama.  It doesn’t mean that we’re equals or that we even do remotely the same job. It’s just a title.