Those readers who have ever seen Scott Adams' cartoon character will know how one of Dilbert's prime ways of poking fun at modern business life is to parody the “management speak” of the moment. In fact, on the Dilbert website there are random mission statement and performance review generators, which by combining adverbs, verbs, adjectives and nouns (such as proactively, leverage, mission critical, intellectual capital) creates meaningless, yet on the surface almost plausible statements.
Perhaps therefore it should be no surprise that the audience to which Dilbert appeals most (those who are disenchanted with “traditional” corporate life, and who want to either work for smaller concerns, or start their own entrepreneurial business) are applying the same fun principles to their job titles.
What started as a bit of fun in spare room-based dotcom start-ups, is now also being adopted by larger, historically more staid organisations looking to inject some “fun” into the workplace. For many years we have known where we stood with job titles and we understood the responsibilities and relationships between, for instance, chairman, chief executive and marketing director. However, catalysed by changes in the way companies would like to see themselves and more complex reporting relationships, major changes are underway in how we will be describing ourselves on our business cards in the future.
The wacky way
Increasingly, it will be acceptable, even normal, to have two titles: an external one to which customers can relate, and an internal one, more related to the role or more “fun” – particularly if the business feels that external stakeholders aren't yet quite ready for the full force of wacky job titles.
Titles will give less information about level and seniority (because hierarchies are either disappearing or becoming more fluid), but more information about the content of the role. Role titles will be tailored more to how a company sees itself and how they would like to be seen. Individuals will increasingly choose their own titles rather than have them imposed.
Titles will change more frequently as staff move between assignments and the emphasis of their role changes.
For me the most interesting aspect of these changes is the suggestion that job titles are increasingly being used by companies to reflect how they would like to be seen both by staff and the external world. A few years ago the personnel director in many companies were renamed “human resources director” in an effort to indicate that employee matters were moving much closer to the central corporate agenda and away from being a purely administrative function.
In many companies this may have been a reflection of reality, but I would suggest that in a disappointingly large proportion it was merely window dressing. Similarly, the move to more individualistic and even “wacky” job titles is certainly a reflection of new ways of working in some organisations – but possibly a piece of self-deception by others.
So here is a sample of job titles for the new millennium; some are actually in use, some I have heard people suggesting and others I've just made up, although – who knows? – possibly some people are already using those too.
Lead Talent Scout
The “war for talent” has spawned all sorts of unusual expressions, and presumably being interviewed by the “lead talent scout” rather than just a recruiter suggests to candidates that they are rather special and will be treated accordingly if they join. My advice: make sure it's not just window dressing and find out what organisation lies behind the lead talent scout – Manchester United or Wycombe Wanderers?
Employee Number One
Indicating that the titleholder was either the founding entrepreneur, or at least holds a significant slice of the equity. Really quite an interesting title in that “employee” suggests that this is a workers democracy and that “just like you, I'm one of the workers”, whereas the “number one” part is a firm reminder that the holder is first amongst equals – so don't mess with me.
Czar of Privacy
Well, even the government has embraced czars for many problem areas. The czar of privacy has to juggle the demands of customers to have their details guarded appropriately, the company to stop its intellectual capital leaking and staff to use the corporate email system for job applications. A tough job, no wonder he's a czar.
Director of Fantastic People
Having been recruited by the lead talent scout, it would be a bit of a come down to get your company car and pension arranged by a mere HR director. The hope is that with appropriate massaging of the ego, staff will remain loyal to the company that little bit longer, and if they do eventually leave, how could a director of fantastic people ever give less than a glowing reference?
King of Sound Bites
With increasing information overload and decreasing attention spans, we need information in bite sized chunks – the person who can distil a message down to the absolute essentials will be much prized. Perhaps the title “sultan of spin” would be taking it a bit too far and imply a less than honest approach.
Dean of Customer Delight
Dean implies a collegiate, multi-disciplinary approach, and who wants to talk about customers being satisfied when they could be delighted? His colleague, the “chief defuser of customer anger”, is far less frequently talked about and tends to work in a back room.
As a search consultant (or should that be facilitator of talent movement?) I need to keep up-to-date with such changes in the employment landscape, and being somebody who is always looking for ways to add value to my clients, perhaps I could develop a job title generator along the lines of the mission
statement generator at the Dilbert website – only mine, of course, would be highly customised and based on a consultancy approach, rather than being merely random.
My advice? New, unconventional job titles can certainly be fun and might even genuinely reflect the culture of the organisation, but take them with a pinch of salt. And finally, as they used to say on “That's Life” after showing something particularly wacky, if you have any bigger, better examples then I would love to hear about them.