Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Stephen Bubb

Q: I am reorganising and thinking about job titles. I don't want to create too many 'directors' and 'heads'. What should I do?

Don't worry, I'm not sure people get too worked up about job titles these days.

Certainly, this is one of the biggest differences between those working in the public and the private sectors.

Those in the public sector seem to be very concerned to secure an appropriate title, whereas it is very hard to know in the private sector quite what anyone's job title really means.

American companies seem to abound in presidents, vice-presidents and senior vice-presidents. Some people you meet don't seem to have a title at all - how do they manage? Others have job titles that are far too modish for any outsider to understand.

Of course, in the public sector one would be upset if one wasn't meeting a director or head of something or other. This would imply that the person concerned wasn't important at all and therefore not worth talking to.

In the civil service, of course, they have a terminology all of their own. This is the only organisation in the country where the title 'permanent secretary' denotes the most important position, as opposed to the implication that this is a typist who has just been promoted to a permanent post.

If one looks at the royal family, of course, there are all sorts of wonderful job titles: royal harpist and hereditary master falconer are two of the more exotic ones. Personally, I think it is a great shame we have lost job titles such as 'writer and embellisher of Her Majesty's letters to eastern princes', not to mention 'royal comb-maker for life' and 'strewer of herbs'.

I know there are some organisations that get quite worked up about establishing the correct hierarchy of job titles, whether for campaign officers, heads of service development or directors of communications. This can seem rather a trivial or even egotistical discussion, but we must not be too sniffy about it.

Having an impressive job title can be very helpful in terms of representing the organisation to the key people you want staff to influence.

For some staff, being able to indicate they have a position of responsibility and authority can make a huge difference when they are applying for jobs in the future. Most recruitment panels will still believe that the term 'director' suggests a senior, even board level position.

Would it be cynical of me to suggest that, although we might find it difficult to pay people spectacular salaries, we can at least reward them with decent job titles?

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