The Law of Diminishing Title Return

“I don’t care what you call me – my title is meaningless!”

Have you heard this?  If you’re in HR long enough – you’ll hear this a number of times over your career.  You know who says this?  People making a lot of money, people who’ve been out of work and are just happy to have a job, or people who’ve been around so long they actually really don’t care anymore!

Titles are important to people – although that is not the politically correct thing to say – so hardly ever hear the truth when it comes to titles.  Don’t think titles are important in your organization – try changing some – try going, let’s say, backwards in title!  You’ll see how important it is.  The issue I see in many organizations is the concept of Title Creep.  When for whatever reason, usually the business not doing well so you don’t have money to give out, the organization starts giving out titles over raises (“Hey, Janie, doesn’t look like we have any budget money to give you your 3% raise this year, but gosh golly you sure our important to us, so we want to “promote” you to Manager!).  And you know what? That crap works for a little while! Because people love titles!

Just look at banks – they’re really funny about titles!  Everyone at a bank – and I mean everyone – is either a Vice President or a President!  Banks really have screwed up the title thing worse than any other industry.  You will see banks now that the person’s title will be Vice President – Manager of Recruiting, or Sr. Vice President – Director of Human Resources – and I wonder to myself – “So, what is it – VP or Director!? What are you?”  This is where titles go very wrong and stop having value to the individual.

The main problem with title creep is when it’s used and people feel because they have, or have had, a certain title that means they should get that title in another organization.  I interviewed a sharp person a while back who had graduated from college in HR and over the course of about 6 years went from HR Generalist, to HR Manager, to HR Director, to VP of HR in the same organization. Impressive, right?  But wait, there’s more to the story!  She lost her position do to an organizational change (that’s what we call getting fired today so the GenY’s and millennials still feel it’s not their fault) and was struggling finding another “executive” role in HR.  I asked her a couple of questions:

1. From your beginning as an HR Generalist to your final role as VP of HR, how many direct reports did you pick up?

              A: 1

2. From your HR Gen role to VP role – what responsibilities did you pick up?

             A: Well…I still do everything, but I also am now more strategic.

Oh, boy.  So, I got to share with her some advice. Stop looking for an “executive” role, find a solid HR Gen or HR Manager role – you my friend are no VP of HR!   Title Creep really hurt her.

In HR we have a major role in this concept of Diminishing Returns in regards to Titles, and that role should be to stop handing out titles like it’s candy from the bowl on the receptionist’s desk at the front door.  We should protect titles and not allow them to diluted, because most people do like them, and they can be a valuable tool in your compensation tool box, but only if you don’t use them very often.

BTW – best title ever is from K Swiss Kenny Powers commercials!

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