Job Titles Do Have a Purpose

Posted on November 29, 2011 by Chris Kelley Posted in Job Evaluation, Job Titling, KnowledgePay

Job titling can be a political hot potato in some organizations, at least in the organizations we see where the HR function hasn’t stepped to define the purpose of the job title. Maybe this is old school, but the most effective organizations define the purpose of the job title as a label that clearly and simply articulates the level and functional area of accountability. That’s it. Nothing cute or fancy…and it certainly is not a reward lever.

Not everyone thinks this way though. See the recent article in CNN Money, where a not-so-scientific research from printer,, shows off some rather uncommon job titles.

So what’s the big deal? Especially in light of low merit budgets and layoffs. Why shouldn’t organizations throw their workers a proverbial bone and let them be creative in coming up with a title that let’s them stand out? Afterall, job titles are free, right? Not.

While it may be tempting to cut loose a little, most companies of any significant size will quickly realize that trying to keep up with creative job titling and making sense of their organizations in fact, carries a real cost. Those costs are felt as both administrative costs, but even more importantly, as drains on organizational efficiency. To achieve organizational effectiveness, it is far more important to have anyone from any part of the process see a job title and have a reasonably good understanding for the nature of work done and the true level of accountability held by the person doing the job. This allows everyone to focus more effort on achieving results vs. coming up with the next best original title.

A reasonable compromise we’ve seen at a couple of our clients is to have standardized job titles that are stored in the system of record as the official job title, but to allow for more personalized and creative titles that folks could use on their business cards (that maybe they order from

In the end though, the HR leadership has the accountability for establishing the purpose for a job title that fits their organization’s culture. And if appropriate, defining the job titling criteria and naming conventions to consistently meet that purpose. The only thing worse than defining your job titling framework as a creative writing exercise is to abdicate the accountability for defining the purpose and remain silent on the issue.