Titles matter a lot in business. The title that someone has is how they’re represented, not just internally among their peers, but externally as well. A title can influence whether people get introductions made for them, if they can get someone from another company on the phone with them and, for business leaders, how and when you give titles to your employees can play an important role in how your business develops.
In the Beginning
When a business is younger, titles don’t matter as much. When you only have 5 or 10 team members, you’re putting people in place as the “first” in a department. And when someone is first in a department, they own so many different responsibilities, and their role changes so many times that you really don’t know what their title is going to shake out to be.
But a lot of times, I’ve seen small business owners with 5 or 10 people giving someone a super senior, C-Level title that ultimately doesn’t reflect what they do in the company. And I think doing that is a mistake.
It’s different if you’re giving a title like that to co-founders, but when you’re hiring people into your business, you should pay special attention to the title they start with. And make sure that the title they’re given is something that they’re going to be able to hit the ground running with.
Waiting until they’re an all-star
I go to a lot of basketball games; in the NBA, a basketball player does not get named an All-Star until halfway through the season. They end up earning a spot on the All-Star roster because of their performance.
So why not do that in your business? The last thing you want is to hire someone who gets into your company with subpar performance. You can’t demote that person’s title easily – that’s a recipe for disaster – and now they won’t be promoted again for years and years as they earn their way up to the title they’ve already been given.
A much better way to go about it is to start someone with either a very generalist title and specialize it later or start someone with the title that is the equivalent of what they had wherever they came from.
The new position is not a title change, it’s not a promotion, it’s a lateral move that then gives you a chance to see how they perform and what they specialize in. Then you can create a title that more accurately reflects what they do once they prove they’re an all-star.
Putting it into practice
The internal implications of giving out titles that haven’t been earned are the most important to consider. Let me explain. If you give someone a title that they haven’t earned yet, it can create internal politics, where it looks like you used that title as a recruiting tool.
And if someone who is already on your team is interested in that title, or a manager designation, it sends the message to them that they have to go externally to find the next title, since that’s what happened with the person you just hired.
At Trainual, we have a Sales Manager. Before she was given that title, she was a Sales Lead which still had a quota and individual contributor responsibilities. But in her role as Sales Lead, she was doing the job of having one-on-ones with the other sales reps, coaching them and mentoring them, and had proven to be a really good manager.
So when we gave her the Sales Manager title, it was really just an internal celebration. Everybody was excited about it. There was no contention around it, and it felt like a very natural progression because she had already taken those responsibilities on.
Because we’ve seen it work, we put it into practice – we try to give people responsibilities for their next title while they’re in their current role. And as they get better at those responsibilities and start to perfect them, you now have an employee who’s performing at the level of someone with the new title. And that’s the time that you promote them.
Don’t just cross your fingers hoping that they show up ready.
Sometimes an employee will ask about a new title, but they haven’t really earned it yet. When responding, the most important thing is for you to be clear about why they haven’t earned it.
It’s really a communication thing – tell them “here are the things that I haven’t seen yet in terms of your performance that we need to work on together to get you to that title.”
It’s the same for an internal employee or for someone that you’re recruiting into the business – be clear about the position and the title that they’re getting. And if they don’t have the title that they want in their offer, you can explain why and show them a path to that title.
If people feel entitled to a title before they’ve earned it, that’s kind of the definition of entitlement right? That’s a bad thing for your business. You don’t want people that are entitled. People that have demonstrated an ability to execute the responsibilities of a position end up “titled”, and that’s what we’re all looking for.