What’s in a name?

Last month, a weekly business publication ran a job ad for a “360-degree marketing manager”. While the firm did not identify itself beyond saying that it was a “well-established force in healthcare”, the notion of an ever-spinning manager is just the latest in a long line of highly-creative job titles to have hit the image-conscious marketing sector in the past five years. This trend for ever more creative job titles is called ‘uptitling’.

With more than 150 different job titles, including ‘b2c manager’ (business to consumer), ‘CRM executive’ (customer relationship management), or ‘marcoms director’ (marketing communications), in regular use, marketing now has more official titles than any other UK sector, according to specialist recruitment agency Marketing Professionals UK.

“We have seen many examples of managers who manage no-one but themselves and marketing managers who, in reality, do no marketing whatsoever,” says the firm’s marketing director, Jenny Cainer.

“While the flashy job titles are a testament to the creativity of the marketing profession, they can make it very hard for HR people and company directors to hire the right person and can simply confuse jobseekers,” she says.

Yet, the practice of creating glamorous new names for the same old jobs is by no means restricted to one particular industry, according to Jessica Jarvis, adviser to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

“My favourite example of uptitling was the ad I saw earlier this year for a ‘director of people and profits’, which was presumably a grandiose alternative to the more standard title of director of HR. I must admit we all had a giggle over that one,” she says.

So who comes up with the ‘strategic communications adviser’ or ‘controller of internal resources’ titles that we all love to hate? Who, in short, are the job snobs?

In Jarvis’ view, job titles in retail, manufacturing or public service go in and out of fashion just as much as pop bands or kitchen designs.

“The people who think up job titles are HR and senior management, and it’s a process that rarely stands still,” she says.

“Fuelled by American academics and the latest management book, titles reflect current thinking about our role and encompass new responsibilities, particularly at appraisal time,” she says.

Jarvis believes that the dwindling use of the term ‘administrator’ or ‘adviser’, particularly in forward-looking HR departments, is a perfect example of the trend.

“People in responsible HR positions don’t like being thought of as little more than senior secretaries, but that’s what these two words can represent. The newer terms such as ‘executive’ or ‘manager’ sound far more senior and, of course, look better on a CV,” Jarvis adds.

Some organisations may cynically use fancy names to avoid paying more in salaries, but most use them as a reward.

“If a new title better reflects what you do all day, and confirms your value to an organisation, then it can only be a good motivator,” says Jarvis.

Richard Wilson, head of business policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), warns that jobseekers need to exercise great caution when applying for a job title that appears to be a hybrid of many different functions.

“HR directors and chief executives like to reward their staff in many different ways and a new title may simply acknowledge the fact that a particular employee’s interpretation of their role has perhaps broadened it,” Wilson says.

“Once they leave though, and the interviews kick off, the title looks more and more confusing. It can get to the stage where a new person coming in would be better off with a diagram of where they sit in the organisation, rather than any number of inherited titles.”

Although there is often a great deal of crossover between the jobs actually done by today’s ‘facilitator’ or ‘controller’, Wilson believes that title proliferation is inevitable.

“Uptitling is often simply a matter of keeping up with changes in the workforce and the desire to develop more specialist staff,” he says.

“With so many layers of management stripped out of organisations, there are fewer opportunities to climb the ladder. Although we cannot always be promoted, we all enjoy having a more senior job title.”

Senior management is addicted to job title snobbery as much as the rest of us, as can be seen from the recent outbreak of ‘comptrollers’ and ‘global presidents’ in job ads.

Wilson believes that the latest title to hit UK boardrooms though – the ‘chief operating officer’ (COO), which has gained ground in the past two to three years – is more a reflection of the globalisation of big business than a genuine development in management understanding.

“With so many firms now operating internationally, there is a real desire to have some harmony in terms of what people are called. COO sounds very grand, but like many other things in management, it is really just an Americanism that has been transported over here,” Wilson says.

“Most IoD members stick to the well-established managing director or chief executive title, and don’t feel the need for another ‘top bod’ handle to confuse things.”

If the US is one factor in the uptitling trend, so too is the recruitment industry.

“In an effort to inject some glamour into what may, in reality, be a very dull post, recruitment consultants are becoming ever more imaginative in the way they label certain jobs,” says Jarvis.

“Ultimately though, your position in an organisation is far more about what you actually do, and how capable you are, than what your business card says.”

Too many chiefs?

The titles CIO (chief information officer), CKO (chief knowledge officer), CTO (chief technology officer), CFO (chief financial officer), CSO (chief sales officer) and CEO (chief executive officer) have been springing up in UK boardrooms for a decade now, says the Institute of Directors.

Is the most recent title of COO or chief operating officer – which to some signifies a highly-prestigious ‘heir to the throne’ title, but to others suggests a role that is little more than monkey to the chief executive organ-grinder – simply a case of one chief too many?

Peter Cheese, at management consultancy Accenture, says the era of the COO at organisations as diverse as eBay, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Barclays Bank and the University of Liverpool, reflects the desire of many organisations to have an ‘heir apparent’ – a person clearly being groomed for the top job.

“I would agree there is a trend towards more grandiose titles, but in the case of the COO, I think it’s a healthy trend that differentiates between the tactical and strategic roles required at the very top of an organisation. It has genuine status,” he says.

And Cheese’s own title? Global managing director for human performance practice.

Changing role of the PA

A recent advertisement for a ‘head of verbal telecommunications’ at a large toiletries company attracted some well-qualified IT specialists, but didn’t quite fit the bill for a job that was little more than a glorified receptionist. Ditto the ‘dispatch services facilitator’ tag, which looked like an office manager’s position, but was actually a fairly junior job in a post room.

Job title mobility in the world of PAs – or, as they are now called, office professionals – is widespread. With the internet and e-mail having made the traditional one-to-one secretarial role largely redundant, there has been an outbreak of new terms such as ‘administrative executive’, ‘project assistant’, ‘executive assistant’ and even ‘personal organiser’ in an industry where team-based secretarial support is now the name of the game.

Jackie Wood, membership development manager at the Institute of Qualified Professional Secretaries, says: “Today’s secretary is more likely to fill a number of different roles including HR, marketing, finance and project work, as well as routine tasks such as diary-keeping or mail.

“As an executive assistant, you may be the assistant to the chief executive, or even to the whole board of directors, but you will never be regarded as an office dogsbody,” she says.

Tell us your weird and wachy HR job titles

Personnel Today wants to hear about the less well-known job titles for HR professionals. If you have a one-off job title or have heard of one, then let us know. E-mail ptod.content@rbi.co.uk

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