It was year 2005, we were head hunting for a country manager for a large Indian IT MNC in the APAC Region. I got a call from the customer who said we had submitted rather junior profiles for this senior search. As soon as I saw the CV and read the designation of the candidate I agreed with our customer’s concern; I then called my recruiter to clarify, he smiled and asked me, “Boss’ did you read his complete profile?” I said no, I saw his title and that was enough”, he then showed me the complete profile, the designation read, John Paul- Executive, he was working for a very large ERP company, but you know what, this guy was their APAC head at about 300 K $ plus fixed salary! Why on earth was he called “just” an executive creating whole lot of confusions for lesser mortals like me and my customer? I eventually got to meet this guy who laughed at my curious question and said “my employer, customers, colleagues & family know who I am, see’ even you head-hunters found me, which means I don’t need to worry about what’s on my business card. I disagreed with his thoughts instantaneously as I believe most adult social conversation take the following order:
I think title or designation is the most important part in professional world. I believe it will be difficult to imagine to connect with people who do not have a title, or rather the right designation for us to connect appropriately? At least we know where to begin with or to “begin at all” if the designation does not suit our need or context, at a personal level our designation communicates to the outer world and ourselves who we are, it’s a status symbol beyond communicating what we get paid for in our organisation. In my first sales job, we were called Territotry Managers, I applied looking at the title not knowing that it was actually the equivalent of medical representatives in Pharma companies, my employer convinced me and many of my peers why we were called so and we bought into it, yes what we did was similar to our counterparts in competition who were called medical representatives, but by now we were in the company and liked the culture+people, on one hand it did not matter what our titles were as we were just out of college and happy to have a job in an MNC which paid well. Truth be told, it did matter at a social level to say I was a territory manager in a large MNC Pharma company. So from an early phase in my career, I was in love with my designations.
So is it wrong to ask, negotiate for bigger, sexy looking designations? Maybe not, as the titles are as important as the pay-cheque and other perks in any company, but sometimes the change in title is purely academic in nature and nothing really “changes” in terms of the role, but it doesn’t matter, we still jostle for it. In many organisations there isn’t a distinct role difference either for example between a manager and senior manager. But the title and salary would change to do the same job which possibly gives great kicks to the employee and maybe retains him; but fundamentally nothing changes for the organisation. To get around employee expectations organisations and managers have come up with this ” external designation” concept, which is claimed to have been designed to satisfy the personal needs of the employee and sometimes in the name of customer; given to understand that customers interact better with fancy looking titles. Another way to be a customer centric organisation? Maybe!
I was once offered a role of a country manager by my aspirant employer, I asked if I could be called CEO, they said they only have one CEO and he heads the company globally, I obviously did not join them as I was already called Country Head with my existing employer. In my world titles are very powerful ego boosters. I grew up observing how Bank Managers, Headmasters of schools, Principals of colleges had different presence in our social settings, it influenced me to a great extent too.
Life would be impossible without titles or designations, but on the other hand the obsession for fancy looking designations creates its own traps and derails us from the core of our career objective. In today’s world anything less than Manager, GM, Director, VP or CEO seems like a compromise as we climb the ladder.
10 years ago, I couldn’t have even thought about writing a piece on titles as I was busy chasing them, the time I have spent negotiating for my and my colleague’s titles could have fetched me a MBA in return. But even now, I am wonder what should be my next designation!