Leaders, and especially human capital management (HCM) professionals, are charged with ascertaining not only what the human capital and staffing needs are for current and future success but also what specific titles should correspond with each position.  In accomplishing this task, human capital management professionals need to consider the specific role, the value and the outcomes they are seeking from each position they create and fund.
We often spend more time on the job descriptions than the title and, at the very least, they deserve equal attention.  They both send a distinct message to others (internally and externally).  We should do the work to clearly send the right messages.
To gain a better understanding of how much attention is being put into this, ARVis Institute conducted a short survey of 150 leaders HR, and human capital management (HCM) professionals and asked these two questions:
  1. How much effort do you think our organizational leaders put into the task of appropriately identifying and assessing the match and alignment between a specific title and the position and person it is attached to?
  2. Is anyone in your organization discussing or ever questioning the appropriateness of a specific title to a position?
Sadly, based on the aggregate survey results, the answers to both questions were:
  1. Not much at all and
  2. Not really.
Clearly, there is a lot of work to do to focus leaders in on this area more deeply.  I’d start with an assertion that titles really do matter as they stipulate to a level of authority, responsibility, influence and power that an individual may hold, and this message is picked up by those within the organization as well as customers, future employers, insurance carriers, and educational institutions to name a few.
I have experienced several instances where a person’s title has indicated that he has much more responsibility, influence, and authority than he actually has and instances where the title reflects much less responsibility, influence, and authority than the person actually has.  We should take efforts to ensure that organizational contributions and responsibilities are more accurately and consistently understood through the job title.

Let’s be clear human capital management professionals, the title should not be about the person in the position. It should be about the relative value the position generates for the organization.

If you find that you are changing the title for a position (the same position) when one person leaves it and another person enters it without changing the  position description or just to accommodate an employee, you are creating a problem.
For example, here is an area where inconsistency prevails.  There are people who hold titles such as Director of Organization Development, Director of Training, Chief Learning Officer, and Human Resources Director, and these people may or may not be doing similar work.  Who takes the time and makes the effort to distinguish the differences?  Are there any differences?  Do all these people do the same work?
How often have you met someone with an inflated or deflated title?  You knew it did not fit the role in terms of their responsibility, influence and authority, and yet the title held.  Why does this happen?  The first dilemma human resources and human capital management professionals, even before getting to the title, would be to define the role more deeply and to appropriately outlay specific performance criteria and value for the role.  Afterwards, an appropriate title can be established that actually reflects the role and not some “inflated” or “deflated” title that over or under represents what the individual is actually charged with accomplishing.  I recommend that you answer these questions before recommending and/or defining the actual position title:
  1. Why is this role being created to begin with?
  2. What does success look like for the position; the organization?
  3. What will not get done if the position is not filled?
Next, we need to determine the value proposition for the position and for anyone who fills the role by asking:
  • What value is expected to be demonstrated?
  • What value does the position create for the organization?
  • How (specifically) does the position generate this value?

The Value = Sum Total of Benefits to the Organization and its People minus the Sum Total of the Costs (i.e., salary, benefits, time, equipment, office space, etc.).

These are just some of my thoughts on a better process to undertake when helping organizations define position titles, deliverables, outcomes and such.  What are your thoughts?  Does your current job title send the right message?  Is it inflated or deflated in connection with what you actually deliver for the organization?

Terina Allen
CEO, ARVis Institute
International Speaker | Strategist | Management Consultant | Educator | Author

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