It’s not just about ego: job titles do matter

Accurate job titles provide a professional image and give credibility to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, even if you are a small owner-managed business, says Peter Hughes.

It’s not just about ego: job titles do matter
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I had wasted almost the entire day talking to the wrong person at the fuel depot. As I explained to my wife at supper that night, the company had been charged for fuel we never received and billed for petrol when we had purchased diesel.

“I called to make an appointment to sort it out,” I said, “and was put through to the ‘accountant’, who said he could help. I went to town to see him, and half an hour later he agreed with the errors, but said he didn’t have the authority to make the corrections. I would have to see his boss, who, unfortunately, was on leave!

“I then discovered that this guy is actually a junior clerk, not the accountant at all. It’s time we moved our account to another supplier!”

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Have you ever had a similar experience? Where someone’s job title leads you to expect something that they cannot deliver?

Job titles matter, and above all, they should clearly reflect the essence of each role, indicating the expertise and authority of each employee.

Many other advantages

Apart from avoiding the confusion caused by a misleading job title, as in the example above, an accurate and well-thought-out job title will fill several other important functions in your organisation:

  • It clarifies the role of the incumbent

A good job title indicates clearly what the incumbent actually does. A job title in a chicken business which caught my eye recently was: ‘Business Unit Director – Added Value’.

It’s quite clear what the incumbent is responsible for, and avoids the sort of confusion I, as a customer, had with the fuel company.

This title also helps peers in the organisation to understand where the power lies, and provides guidance on the chain of command.

  • It clarifies the position in the hierarchy

A person’s level in the management hierarchy of the company is made clear by the inclusion of a term such as ‘director’, ‘head’ or ‘senior ‘ in the job title.

It also helps the holder gain other employees’ respect, and when dealing with subordinates, to establish the senior person’s authority.

  • It improves performance

A job title affects others’ perceptions of the incumbent, and helps the holder achieve better results. For example, the inclusion of the term ‘senior’ in the job title of a salesperson gives him or her more credibility, and has been shown to bring greater success when approaching clients.

  • It motivates (or demotivates!)

A job title is tied to the identity of the incumbent at an emotional level. If it understates or demeans the actual job and position in the hierarchy, this will affect the person’s sense of self-worth, lower his or her self-esteem and possibly act as a demotivator.

Conversely, a job title that accurately reflects someone’s responsibilities and skills enhances the person’s sense of value and recognition within the organisation.

This in turn helps to boost motivation, job satisfaction and employee engagement, leading to higher productivity and retention rates.

  • It helps in recruitment

An accurate job title is crucial for effective recruitment of new staff. It helps to attract the right candidates, with appropriate qualifications and experience, for the specific job, and provides the keywords that job seekers use in their Internet searches.

Keep it simple

In developing job titles for your employees, there may be a place for some originality. Far better, however, to work with the traditional titles recognised in your industry.

Discuss job titles with the people involved from time to time, and don’t be reticent to apply new ideas that make a title more descriptive and accurate in representing the role of the job and its position in the hierarchy.

At the same, remember that no matter what something or someone is called, it’s the substance and quality that matter, not the name!

Accurate and appropriate job titles matter greatly to your employees and are important to your business: they provide a professional image and credibility to clients, customers, and other stakeholders. Don’t underestimate their significance.

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant.