Monday, March 6, 2017

Why You're Title Doesn't Matter As Much As You Think...Or Does It?

A conversation with a client and the book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz has made me ponder about the importance of titles.  Or how non-important titles could be. 

In the conversation with my client, she was debating with herself on what title to call herself.  She is the owner of a boutique consulting firm and has a big pitch in the coming week and decided to call herself an "Organizational Phycologist".  When she asked me what I thought about the title as compared to the title of "CEO" I gave her very straight forward advice:
When you are pitching a potential client, the client doesn't care what you call yourself.  More importantly, the client cares about how you make them feel and what you can do for them.  At times, it may be better to call yourself "chief problem solver" or "the person that helps you make more money".
In this context, where she is pitching other business owners on how to help them grow, truly what you call yourself is not as important as what message comes across.   If the person sitting across from you doesn't believe you can help them, they won't care what you call yourself.

In the book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz, the author goes into examples of how titles are given in organizations and how they may effect the organization and it's output.  Even how it may effect the culture of the organization and the humans working therein.  He offers two ways to think about it.
  1. Titles are free and it is the cheapest way to attract talent to an organization, after all, you don't have to pay extra to call a particular person something or another.
  2. Titles should be held to represent the job function and the position in the organizational structure of the company. 
These two ways of thoughts are completely at odds with each other and the author goes on to state that sometimes one way is better than the other.  After all, at some point people need to know where they fit into the pyramid of the business. And sometimes, it doesn't matter as long as the work is getting done. 

When I worked for Merrill Lynch my supervisor was a Vice President.  Fresh out of college I tried to flatter her by saying "Wow, a Vice President!  I'm honored to be working for you!" to which she quickly quipped back "They give out titles like water here" followed by a chuckle.  Indeed she was right, over my next few weeks at the company it seemed as though there were 8 associates and 30 Vice Presidents at the office.  Although I knew who my supervisor was, I could imagine this being a hierarchy nightmare for those looking from the outside in.  But in a field where all that mattered was how many "accounts" you had, the title was not important.  The measure of progress or how well someone was doing was delineated by how much money each money manager had under management..not their title.  This is not the case in other companies where the jobs are strictly measured by title; such as in the military. 

In my career at multiple startups, titles where the only compensation were we actually had leverage.  In one startup where we could not afford to pay anyone; everyone was President of this or that.  Now this may seem confusing when it came time for decision making but in a startup the decision making process was so democratic and flat that it didn't matter if there was a hierarchy of title. 

So do titles really matter?  Yes they do!  Depending on the organization depends to what degree they actually matter.  Have an opinion, story or comment?  Please continue the conversation below in the comment section. 

Hope this was enlightening. 

About the Author: Nicholas Coriano is a Business Consultant.  He is a graduate of The University of Connecticut Business School and the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.  He has worked at Merrill Lynch, The New York Stock Exchange and is currently a partner at Cervitude Intelligent Relations, which specializes in Investor Relations for companies valued under $1 Billion USD.

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