what’s in a name?

A
rose may smell as sweet but why are HR job titles getting increasingly flowery?
Phil Boucher learns why some of today’s job names seem to industry outsiders to
be on par with Oscar-billing showbiz hype

Showbusiness
has always had a penchant for creating unusual and distinctive names, and now
it seems the business world is doing its best to enter the realms of the
obscure and often ridiculous.

Although
it may take a while to realise that the Post Office is now called Consignia,
the local dairy Uniq, or that Lattice is not a vegetable but a former part of
British Gas, individual job titles have a way to go before they rival the
mystique of “best boy” or “chief grip” in the film world.

Nevertheless,
HR professionals are doing their best to come up with some interesting
offerings. Whether it is “behavioural change consultant”, “people development
manager” or the legally inspired “personnel partner”, HR positions around the
country are being ascribed names that would grace the most inventive CVs.

So
should a job title state with absolute clarity the role you perform or simply
provide a means by which the rest of the company can identify and make use of
your specific skills?

Richard
Brady, managing consultant at HCM International, says, “One of the main issues
we find – particularly in a large organisation with wide HR responsibilities –
is that there can be an array of job titles that refer to the same role and set
of responsibilities. The key point of any title is to describe the purpose of
the role and in HR we often rely upon unnecessary jargon and may not be aware
of the effect it has on other people.”

The
problem with an unusual job title, says Louise Rudolph, consultant occupational
psychologist with the Peachell Group, is “it only makes people more confused
about specific roles and who they should be talking to if they have a problem”.
She adds, “Confusion is a major drawback and has a negative impact on HR, as
people just think ‘why can’t they just keep the same names like anyone else?’”

Yet
this does not explain where the desire to devise such job titles originates
from. Showbusiness may have a need to create something unusual, but what is
HR’s excuse?

“It’s
the job title which expresses that it’s a dynamic role that thrives on the
energy of people, and that the business 
and role itself is in continuous change,” says Francis Cook, managing
director of careers consultancy Sanders & Sidney. Explaining the rationale
for Sanders’ own staff position as “head of change and human energy”, she says,
“It’s an important role that is concerned with far more than such things as
salary and holidays. It is the life-blood of the company and an essential part
of everything we do.”

Debbie
Meech, director of talent management at Freeserve, believes it is crucial to
move away from the old-fashioned stereotype of labour relations. “Instead of
taking the machine approach of people just being a human resource, we decided
to show that we appreciate employees, value them and believe they are talented
people,” she says. “The word ‘talent’ alone shows that you believe in someone.”

And
it is this factor that is most important in today’s highly competitive business
world. Attracting the right people increasingly depends on offering them a
sense of value and worth alongside wages, pensions and SAYE schemes.

A
distinctive job title can help convey this message to candidates while they are
still scanning the employment pages.

Yorkshire
Electricity spokesman Mervin Straughan explains, “The job title ‘employee
development specialist’ actually encapsulates a number of different strands of
what the company is trying to display and develop. In our industry, your
greatest assets used to be the tonnage of goods you produced or the type of
smelting furnace you had.

“We
have moved to being more of a service industry, so now people are your most
valuable asset. It’s part of getting away from the idea that employees are
numbers by recognising that people are the way forward.”

For
the HR profession, this shift in attitudes cannot be underestimated. Some
personnel departments may still feel undervalued, but a change in job title can
at least help to increase their visibility and understanding among the
workforce. Randolph continues, “It is an attempt to make HR seem more strategic
as it’s not at the sharp end of directly generating sales and profit.”

Whether
or not a job title can do this is open to debate. Some job titles may appear to
be slightly off-the-wall, but they can have strong plus points. Cook says they
become a talking point “that gives you the opportunity to explain exactly what
you do and where the company is heading; it also expresses the philosophy of
the company as a whole”.

She
continues, “There are pros and cons about changing a job name and it can be
argued that it is better to have a standard title so people don’t become
confused. But I genuinely think it’s a good idea, just so long as it is not
being done because the company is trying to look trendy by creating something
strange, and that there’s a real reason behind it.”

Job
title oscars

With
the Hollywood Oscar nominations last week, we thought we would make our own
suggestions for some of the more creative job descriptions we have discovered.

Best
Director:
human organisation, effectiveness and development director

Best
Supporting Role:
management development manager

Best
Dramatic Title:
temporary conflict training consultant

Best
Original Screenplayer:
employee development specialist

Special
Achievement for Most Descriptive Title:
assistant chief executive in charge
of strategic human resources and development

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