Is It Time To Get Rid Of The Job Title?

Last week Elon Musk dropped all job titles associated with Tesla referring to himself as CEO of nothing.

Although he soon discovered that some jobs are legally required – for now at least.

He said he deleted all his Tesla titles to ‘see what would happen’ , so it could be just another outlandish statement – but he may be right in general about the futility of job titles.

Titles exist to to signal to others what we do and our relative status within an organisation. Their main role is to provide clarity to others about the person they are dealing with.

However , in an era when many of us will work from our teens to our 70’s, and beyond, the idea that all our skills and experiences – that everything we have to offer the world of work- can be neatly summed up in a couple of words, is naive.

Additionally job title inflation – the increasing number and size of grandiose job titles in corporations and organisations – is everywhere.

Last year the BBC announced it would reduce over 5000 baffling titles to just 400. In the public sector there’s a surfeit of Officers, Directors and Heads of Everything, all designated to make people feel a lot more important than they actually are.

I once ran a team that abandoned job titles. It worked for a while. People actually had to define themselves by what they contributed rather than use a title as a signal of their identity, self-esteem and status.

After a few months though we bowed to pressure to bring them back – the wider corporate structure couldn’t cope without badges to label people with, and a couple of the more established members didn’t like the fact that there was no way of signalling their seniority. I gave in to the desire for hierarchy. That’s why most people hold on to titles: they want their fair share of recognition.

The inability of our organisations to think beyond job titles and job descriptions – of neat little boxes – is in part linked to our failure to shift from an industrialised model of work.

As Roger L. Martin has written – companies everywhere struggle with the management of knowledge workers. Many modern workers don’t manufacture products or perform basic services or tasks, rather they produce decisions, thoughts or ideas.

This results in an almost primitive form of design – the organisational structure chart – which places knowledge within neat directorates and then draws boxes around people.

The end result of this is there for all to see: an inability of organisations to tap into the skills of people across the wider organisation and a cyclical round of growth, redundancy, hiring and firing as the company recruits based on a job description only to realise it doesn’t need it a few years later.

There are companies who have made the successful shift away from job titles:

Gusto:  “The most immediate change was in our recruiting. Our hiring managers saw incredible people come through—people who never would’ve applied before because all the titles were preventing them from taking the leap. Eliminating job titles helps create a “no ego” culture”.

CloudFare: – “Titles definitely come with a cost. The best ideas are bottom-up, not top-down. But in most companies, the ideas come from the top, and hierarchy can mean artificial authority wins, not the best idea”

Valve:  We have no formal titles. The few employees who’ve put titles on business cards do so to satisfy outsiders apprehensive about working with people without labels. The same applies to Gabe Newell, one of Valve’s founders. “I think he’s technically the C.E.O., but it’s funny that I’m not even sure of that.”

We Are All Project Managers Now

Today’s workplace is complex and dynamic, needing a high degree of technological proficiency. There is a generational shift in the workplace, making it a new HR challenge to lead multi-generational and more diverse teams.  There is a need for people who can lead or execute projects from beginning to end.

Let’s get rid of “jobs,” argues Roger L. Martin, and instead give everyone “a portfolio of projects.”

If we used the project rather than the job or the job title as the organising principle, we’d be much more productive, efficient and happier.

This would avoid progression being seen from jumping from title to title, climbing a hierarchy and grabbing “director” accolades along the way. People will know that you’ve advanced because you’re tackling more advanced projects.

The Rise Of Quirky Titles

“We have our fun titles, and everyone has the opportunity to consider their title and come up with something that means something to them…”

Maybe if we are to have job titles we need ones that are more reflective of who we are personally. A study by the University of Pennsylvania and London Business School found that “self-reflective” job titles reduced workers’ emotional exhaustion, helped them cope with emotional challenges, and let them affirm their identity at work. The team tested their findings in hospitals, where they asked workers to give themselves new job titles. An infectious disease specialist became a “germ slayer,” and an X-ray technician was dubbed a “bone seeker”.

Tightly defined job titles and job descriptions can kill innovation at a time when we need to create more concept and value-driven teams.

They cause inertia because the moment employees are given specific responsibilities they expect them to stand still. They cause people to focus on “just doing the job”.  Huge resources lie untapped.

The networked organisation of the future will utilise the skills of people regardless of who they are, where they sit or what their title is.

Managers are waste: Five organisations saying goodbye to the boss

corporate-hierarchy-hi-res

“Until there is a monumental shift in the leadership dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then the debate about the need for an office (in the traditional sense) will be a long one.”  – Tracey Johnson commenting on Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

For lots of people the traditional office – a place many go to simply to attend meetings and do emails – has become toxic.

But many readers of my recent post thought I was overstating the problem, believing if we tackled those two big time wasters it could be restored to a former grandeur.

I personally favour more radical solutions – as alluded to by Tracey in her full comment here.

Emails and meetings, together with outdated reporting and approval systems, are part of a wider hierarchical culture that is at odds with the onset of truly social business.

One of the barriers to adopting more transformational ways of working is often not the executive leadership of the organisation but the point at which it can all start to go very wrong.

The manager.

Management is the greatest inefficiency in any organisation.

Many of you will be familiar with the work of Gary Hamel – but it’s worth revisiting his examples on management waste in the context of the death of the office.

Typically a small organisation might start off simply – one manager and 10 employees. 

But as it grows it will often keep this ratio and sometimes reduce it. So an organisation with 100,000 employees will have at least 11,111 managers. Because an additional 1,111 managers will be needed to manage the managers.

And that’s before you go near management related functions whose entire function is , well , management.

It’s very easy to make yourself busy as a manager:

  • The one to ones and appraisals.
  • The team meetings and management meetings.
  • The reports you have to write and the reports you have to read that other managers have to write.
  • Authorising peoples annual leave and expenses or explaining why you won’t authorise peoples annual leave and expenses.

You could fill up 40 hours a week with just being a manager.

This multi-tiered management model piles inefficiency upon inefficiency. Decision making slows. People become less empowered.

Unsurprisingly, a number of organisations are now exploring the manager-less organisation. And it’s a trend that will only grow as social technology enables very different ways of working, both across the organisation and even across sectors.

One of the biggest has been Zappos, the online shoe and clothing store, who have adopted a system called holocracy – which replaces top-down control with a distribution of decision-making.

0711_tonyhsieh2-4Web

Here’s how Tony Hsieh  (who was CEO before they all gave up job titles) describes his vision:

“Research shows that every time the size of a city doubles, innovation or productivity per resident increases by 15 percent.
But when companies get bigger, innovation or productivity per employee generally goes down.
So we’re trying to figure out how to structure Zappos more like a city, and less like a bureaucratic corporation. In a city, people and businesses are self- organising.
We’re trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work, instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”

Rather than by managers,  Zappos is being run via a series of self organising teams. Instead of going up the chain of command, decision-making is entrusted to groups of employees, called circles.  People can assume whatever roles they want within these circles to focus on the task in hand.

Whether it’s successful or not – it marks a shift in how large organisations are dismantling long established models to encourage greater agility and innovation.

Here are some other organisations that are worth looking at:

Valve

Valve, the video game developer , have a culture built on the premise that there are no managers, with each colleague able to choose the project he or she is working on. Don’t like the project? Fine , just get up and move to one you like. Valve also have a wonderful employee handbook which is a must-read.

Medium

Medium, the blog publishing platform, have adopted a philosophy of “No people managers. Maximum autonomy”. Adopting a form of holocracy, people can build versatile roles for themselves that speak to their whole skill sets — rather than just a single ability.  This goes against the standard , and completely wasteful , practice of recruiting for roles rather than people.

Treehouse-1

Treehouse , the online interactive education platform, have not only adopted the #NoManager philosophy but have also combined it with a four day working week. Over 90% of employees voted to adopt a manager less structure (the other 10%, presumably, were managers) with the rules of the new organisation being written by collaboration on a Google doc.

Gore

And it can be done at really large companies. At  WL Gore –  a multi-billion dollar company with 10,000 staff, people choose their own bosses – or “sponsors” as they call them.  There are “no chains of command” and instead associates communicate directly with each other.

It’s interesting to contemplate why the public sector – most of which requires far more radical transformation than the likes of Zappos – has not explored the #NoManager principle.

Social media has distributed knowledge across countless networks. On Twitter , for example, you can connect and learn from anyone. The unlikeliest people can become leaders, knowledge sharers and super-connectors.

Exactly the same thing will happen in organisations as people seek out people who inspire them rather than who manages them on a structure chart. And just like social media , you will not be able to control it.

The traditional manager , just like the traditional office, has to adapt or die.

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