Saturday, April 10, 2010

Much ado about nothing

People get very worked up about their job titles. It seems to be a matter of life and death whether you are an Assistant General Vice President or a Deputy Senior Group Executive. On this gloomy Sunday, a typically dreary , foggy, day in Guangzhou, I decided to do a learned treatise on job titles .

Some people lay great store on the words in their job titles. Vice President is a very commonly coveted title. In some banks I know, you join as a fresher with the title Vice President! But then how do you differentiate yourself from the hordes of vice presidents around ? (Its an interesting aside that in politics the least desirable post is that of the Vice President, but in business, it seems to be a coveted title). So you become a Senior Vice President or a Group Vice President or preferably a Group Executive Senior Vice President.

Another fixation is “General”. You want to be a “General Manager”. As opposed to a “specific manager”, I presume. You can have the choice of Deputy, Chief, Senior, etc etc to embellish your being a General Manager. And then you get stupid acronyms such as SDCGM.

Lower down the totem pole, the salivation is over the simple “manager”. People are willing to kill to become a "manager". You have the choice of Executive, Associate, Consultant, etc etc as stepping stones with the usual variants of senior, vice, etc etc. You can also be an Executive Associate Consultant, if you wish.

Some companies try to impose global job titles without regard to how they may be perceived locally, often to much amusement. Many years ago, I was a lowly flunky and I was taking my boss's boss to a very senior official in a bank. Our worthy was designated as “Treasurer”. I was pulled up in no uncertain terms by the bank honcho for bringing a cashier with me for such an important meeting !! More recently we have “Engagement Managers” around. One visa official was so intrigued by this title that he spent the entire visa interview with this person enquiring who she was engaged to !

You know you have gone too far in embellishing job titles when your secretary is “Head of Verbal Communications” , the window cleaner is “Vision Clearance Engineer”, the ticket inspector is “Revenue Protection Officer”, the maid is the “Crockery Cleansing Operative”, and the teacher is “Knowledge Navigator”. No kidding; these are real job titles – I didn’t make them up.

In the new world, some companies have taken to unusual titles. I have met a “Valued Member” of XYZ Inc whose boss was “Most Valued Member”. Without a doubt, in 5 years there will be a Executive Senior General Most Valued Member ! A very famous leader himself adopted the rather unusual title, Gardener. In fashion is becoming a mentor. One nanny country even has a Minister Mentor.

In reality the correct and true designation must be Employee No 12345. That’s exactly how companies treat their employees – as a number. Despite all the pious and hypocritical blah blah of how people are the most valuable resource of a company, the reality is that you are a faceless number. That’s the sad truth of the industrialised world.

Yours truly
Lao Ming Zhi
Employee No 50001.