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Trend to abandon job titles may be generational-based

Some companies are ditching job titles 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.”
by Paula Burkes Published: June 1, 2014
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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.”

‘Radical transparency’

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.

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by Paula Burkes
Reporter
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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