Why Job Titles Matter – How to Use Them to Hire Great Talent

In the start-up world, you’ll often come across organizations with employees that have no job titles – or at least not the formal, conventional titles you might normally see in the corporate arena. Titles like “Growth Hacker” or “Chief Evangelist” or even “Executive Sensei” are becoming more and more common. Is this because titles don’t matter anymore? Or is there a more important underlying trend moving companies to re-invent roles, and their corresponding titles, in a more creative manner?

This blog post will explore why job titles do in fact matter, and how you can use them to hire great talent.

External vs. Internal

There are two critical considerations when determining a job title –

  1. What is the internal perception of this role? Does it matter? How do you want to position the person assuming this role within the broader organizational hierarchy? To the extent that this person will be taking on important responsibilities, and will need to command a sense of authority, it might make sense to provide them with a title along these lines. VP or Director immediately implies that the person has experience and skills commensurate with a senior title. This title can send a message to direct reports and can help to build respect right out of the gate, especially for new candidates.
  2. What external impressions are you trying to drive? Will this person be representing the company in a public facing manner? Is this role one that will interface with senior leadership from other organizations? These are things you should consider when designating a title and you will want to make sure that the title you provide is one that will boost the company’s reputation and credibility externally.

Employee engagement and promotion protocols

Beyond internal and external impressions, a title has an impact on the person on whom it is bestowed.

A title can be a measure of influence within the organization; it is a way to gauge career advancement and ambitious employees will naturally want to have their titles evolve to reflect their growth.

The right job title can also help to attract experienced candidates. A creative title (like the ones mentioned above) suggest a more open-minded work environment where skill is valued over tenure. It tells candidates something about your corporate culture – are you looking for ‘go-getters’ or more established experts, for instance. The right title can set expectations with a new hire and frame responsibilities and seniority to attract experience.

That said, a title should not be the principal measure (or reflection) of leadership. Leadership happens in the trenches – and today, there is a lesser distinction between decision makers and team players, when it comes to ‘whose job is it’. Even senior leaders roll up their sleeves and dig into mundane tasks if it makes sense to do so. Having a certain title should not run contrary to this notion.

Organizational hierarchy does have its purpose and can help your employees benchmark their performance against their peers. You will want to strike a balance between establishing titles that speak directly to the organizational hierarchy and offer opportunity for promotion and growth, and a culture that nurtures leadership skills regardless of title.

Don’t stifle innovation

Along these lines, you should be mindful of the negative impact that hierarchical structure can have on innovation and creativity within your organization, this being a fundamental imperative in today’s fast-changing world.

To the extent you want to disrupt your market and encourage innovative activity from your team, you will want to be looser in your organizational structure. This is why start-ups (in which innovation is their primary mandate) typically balk at conventional job titles. A flatter organization, with less rigid titles, tends to be more supportive of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.

If the imperative of innovation is an important message to send to potential hires, it can be reflected in the right job title. A VP of Innovation is going to attract a different profile than a VP of Product, for instance – even if the job description is essentially the same for both titles.

Alternatively, if your company is more conservative, and you want your team to adhere to standards and set expectations, boxing them in with predictable titles can help to that end.

Take time to think about what a job title says about the opportunity, your organizational culture, your hiring needs and the skills and expertise of the person assuming the role. You might be surprised with how much more interest you can inspire for a particular role, just by tweaking the associated title. For more information on how to build employee engagement and roll out hiring best practices, contact Miller Bernstein today.

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