Lessons from the Past 60: Be Wary of Titles – They Can Be Misleading!
Over the many decades of practice in the business of personnel recruitment—and the experience gained from it—I have always advised young (and not so young) people that they should be careful when changing jobs. The new company may give you more money and a grander designation. But does that mean more responsibility? The executive today has to be doubly careful about designations. 
The whole area of designation has changed considerably over the past 30 years. In the past, organisations were small and the structures were simple. You joined the company at the lowest level—perhaps as an accounts clerk or salesman or management trainee. You graduated to be a junior officer, executive, manager, then to senior officer, executive, manager. And then, if you were lucky, you became the general manager or the managing director. 
The environment has now changed and become very complicated. Organisations are now large, multi-locational, multi-product and with diverse interests. And designations have followed suit and also become very complex. Even at the level of salesman, changes took place when salesmen in some industries began forming unions and claimed the classification of ‘workmen’. 
Some companies, where salesmen were highly paid, re-designated them as sales officers or marketing officers, sales promotion officers, or sales communicators. The term ‘officer’ did not mean that one had reached the next level of supervising the work of other salesmen. Only the nomenclature had changed. The job content remained the same as before. 
Sales supervisors, in turn, became area managers or area field managers—and some were even called regional sales managers. In the past, the sales supervisor looked after a state or part of it and reported to the regional sales manager, who looked after a region (a quarter of the country—north, south, etc). 
In the process of recruiting an all-India sales manager, where we needed to consider candidates who had experience in an entire region, I erred by calling some sales supervisors for interviews, because they had indicated their designations as regional managers. Errors like these can mean a waste of time and money—and can be very frustrating. 
When the government in India introduced a ceiling on the remuneration of directors, there began an exodus from the boardroom. The managing director resigned and became the president. The other directors became vice-presidents either in the area of marketing, finance, production, or personnel. Later, when the salary ceiling was considerably raised, some presidents reverted to being managing directors; others did not. And now you have a mix of directors and vice-presidents in corporations around the country.
In the meantime, some other companies began appointing directors, who were called directors but were not on the board of directors. Thus, there was a marketing director, who was head of marketing and whose job function was the same as that of the marketing manager. Only the title had changed... 
Since a large number of directors were thus appointed, there was a need to distinguish between executive directors, who worked full-time in the company and were also on the board of directors; non-executive directors, who were on the board but not full-time employees of the company; and directors who were full-time executives, but not on the board of directors.
Years ago, general managers were just that. They looked after the total enterprise and all functions reported to them. Over a period of time, the general manager has become a ‘grade’, and not a job function. And so, when a person is introduced as a general manager, you now have to take care to clarify whether he is general manager personnel, purchase, or marketing. 
That is because he may be in the GM grade - and looking after a particular function. He may be even doing it for a particular division of the company and a particular area (and not for the total company). So, he may be ‘general manager (personnel), dyes division, south region, India. Surely, such a long designation can cause confusion in environments not familiar with these developments!
There are also the controllers—a term perhaps derived from aircraft and airports, with navigation controllers, et al. Companies may have a grade of finance controllers and marketing controllers, and the level this implies is as high as the director or as low as the storekeeper, depending on the whim of the company. Once again, when introducing a controller, one has to be very clear in order to avoid confusion.
There are also senior vice-presidents, senior general managers, or senior controllers!
Even the chairman of the board of directors has problems. Some chairmen wanted to continue to be chairmen beyond the retirement age. If they have done yeoman service for the company, the company reciprocated by designating them chairman emeritus, something like a field marshal in the army—not quite active, but to be called upon in an emergency. 
And for chairmen of a large corporation, which has a large team of effective high-flying executives at the next level, all wanting to be chairman as early as possible, there is the option of creating positions of vice-chairman and then again, lower down, deputy chairman. This gives another two tiers between the chairman and other directors of the company.
There is a company in India that was fed up with all these designations and decided to eliminate them—except for the managing director. Visiting cards just said: ‘AK Roy—Marketing Department‘, whether he was product manager or marketing manager. The company thought it would do away with the caste system, derived from titles. Over the next two years, 60% of the executives left the company! 
There is also the example of the large Sahara Parivar which de-emphasises titles and calls its managing director—‘Chief Worker’, and all others at different executive levels are just ‘workers‘.
Nomenclatures and titles are becoming very important in India (and elsewhere in the world). They give prestige and self-assurance. Therefore, there is a scramble for a title—even one which is not totally appropriate and sometimes confusing. There is also now the influx of CEO, COO, CFO, CMO and CXO, to add to the variety.
It is therefore important for job seekers to be careful - is the designation offered to you of cosmetic value or is it substantive? This will take some intelligent exploring, so you can take the right decision in the overall interests of your career.
(Adapted from Winning Manager by Walter Vieira—Sage Publ/Available on Amazon)
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are "Marketing in a Digital/Data World with Brian Almeida and "Customer Value Starvation can kill" with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
3 months ago
Very interesting article, somewhat humorous at that! Perhaps Mr. Vieira was aware but avoided to mention 'Pradhan Sevak' for Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister), so as to be politically correct!
3 months ago
I fully agree with the author. Very deceptive designations are given by companies. I have come across persons with designations such as Vice President, Senior Vice President which actually mean positions of Manager and Senior Manager of a department only.
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