Article published in American City Business Journals on December 5, 2022.
Job titles identify who we are. It tells the world of our position within the hierarchy of an organization or profession. As we progress from one position to another during our career, a job title that reflects increasing responsibility is a sign of achievement.
The term “job title inflation” has negative connotations. Is bestowing a title with a higher perceived status ever justified when the employee is performing the same duties as they did previously?
Years ago, the title “chief” was reserved for the chief executive officer, chief operating officer and chief financial officer to designate the three top positions of an organization. Today, these have expanded to include the positions of chief information officer, chief strategy officer, chief compliance officer, chief marketing officer and chief human resources officer.
Formerly, these positions would have been designated as “manager,” and in some cases also be designated as “vice president” to indicate the individual is more than just a manager but also a corporate officer.
When I see staff organization titles like chief knowledge officer, chief visioning officer, chief sustainability officer, chief revenue officer, chief strategy officer and chief innovation officer, I wonder why these areas aren’t the responsibility of existing positions within the company.
I also wonder about the lack of ownership by the line organization of the initiatives developed by staff “chiefs.” Strategy should be developed and owned by those responsible for executing the strategy, not the chief strategy officer who isn’t responsible for execution.
A job title with a higher perceived status and importance has psychological benefits to the employee and indicates how valued they are to the organization. Inflating job titles is done to attract and retain talent and to keep pace with the marketplace use of these titles. When these employees deal with people outside the organization, a “chief” title gives them more gravitas and helps them be more effective.
Bestowing a higher ranking title is less expensive than giving a salary increase. An organization needs to pay an individual consistent with their performance and what the marketplace is paying for that position or they risk losing them, perhaps to a competitor.
When does job title inflation have a downside? Unless the job description and title accurately reflect the duties and responsibilities of the position, an organization can run into internal equity issues. If an employee is granted an inflated title, others within the organization may also want their job title inflated.
An individual with an inflated title may be disadvantaged when searching for a new job. A future employer may not consider them if their experience and accomplishments are inconsistent with their current job title. An individual may also be inhibited from taking a job that they are qualified for, but has a job title of lesser status.
Exercise care when bestowing an inflated title. Ensure it is justified. Otherwise, the holder of the inflated title could lose credibility within the organization which might impact their effectiveness.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.