There’s an age-old joke about vice presidents in banking: that it only takes two weeks to secure the VP title and most employees have it.
Mike Crandall, of Oklahoma City-based Sandler Training, recently heard the gag once again, when he presented at an event for chief executives whose conversation turned to banking.
“Although it obviously isn’t true, the perception is that it’s factual,” Crandall said.
While banking and other industries continue to use traditional titles, some companies are ditching designations altogether. Others — including one accounting firm with Oklahoma City offices — are overhauling theirs to align with the times. Still others, including many in the retail and healthcare industries, refer to everyone as “associates,” while some have renamed their assistants “specialists.”
In December, Las Vegas-based Zappos online shoe retailer officially did away with managers. Their 1,500 employees work in some 400 self-governing circles, in which workers can have any number of roles. Company spokespersons say “radical transparency,” or no hiding under titles, is the goal when the roll-out is complete in December.
Meanwhile, Springfield, Mo.-based BKD CPAs & Advisors on Oct. 1 removed its existing supervisor title, so employees move from senior associate to manager, said Chris Zach, a marketing specialist in its Oklahoma City office. “We updated our titles to better match our peer firms,” he said.
Each formal level is defined by specific duties, responsibilities and competencies, requiring increasing degrees of education, training, experience and skills, Zach said.
“An individual becomes a candidate for promotion when meeting stated experience requirements, completing relevant learning objectives through our Leadership Academy and successfully demonstrating mastery of the essential duties, responsibilities and behaviors of the current level,” he said. “In refining our titles, we are better able to communicate these expectations and prepare our people for success,” he said.
Organizations should be very careful about using titles, Crandall warns. “A title immediately casts a perception, bad or good, and often sets expectations, also bad or good,” he said.
“If I think I deserve to talk to a director and someone has manager on their card, I automatically believe that person cannot help me,“ Crandall said. “Or, if I want to talk to a manager and the director hands me a card, I immediately think they are too high-up for me to talk to,” he said.
Crandall once recommended that a client put “sales rep” on their salespersons’ business cards, after a former, misguided, consultant instructed the company to change all their titles to “sales professionals” on all communications, including email signatures, he said.
“When the CEO called us, we discovered that their sales had been falling or flat for several years and prospective clients found the ‘sales professional’ title laughable,” Crandall said. “We even found instances where people had specifically chosen not to do business with them because of this.”
Oklahoma City human resources professional Gayla Sherry believes the trend to abandon titles is generation-based. The research about Millennials (workers born 1978 and afterward) indicates respect must be earned, no matter the title, Sherry said. “This is frustrating for baby boomers who tend to place a high value on title and authority, and who grew up respecting others because of titles,” she said.
Scott Kinnaird, executive chairman of Oklahoma City’s a la mode provider of real estate software and web solutions, said he, following the lead of a LinkedIn professional and two of her colleagues with whom he recently connected, changed his LinkedIn profile to what he’s working on versus his title.
“I like it, and believe this change is going to continue to happen,” said Kinnaird, whose LinkedIn title now reads “Building Talent Teams and Selling Workflow Software.”
Tim Berney, president of VI Marketing and Branding, said he’s been hesitant about job titles since founding the local company 25 years ago. “We wanted a flat organization that promoted collaboration,” Berney said. “No idea should have more weight because of hierarchy,” he said.
But, as his company approaches 60 employees, he’s found a greater need to define reporting structure, Berney said.
“Still, whatever you call people, or however your organizational chart looks, it’s the culture that you have that is more important, and is what people are looking for,” he said.