Titles Are Forever

job titlesSent: September 20
From: CEO
To: HR
Subject: Chief of Compassion


Please prepare a promotion package for Randy. I believe this new role, Chief of Compassion, will be much better suited to what he does on a regular basis. We need someone with his empathy and ability to connect with our customers and employees.

I know you and I have discussed that some of what he does actually fits into the HR department, but I don’t see it that way. I know you want the title of Chief of Staff, and at some point, we may revisit it.

For now, let’s just do this one. Give him only about a 5 percent bump in pay because it’s not a real C-level job, but it looks good, and he deserves it. He will be included in the C-suite meetings, but only so he can help us be a bit more compassionate. He won’t have any direct reports or any real authority, so make sure to outline that in his letter. I don’t want him getting any ideas.

Also, let’s move Jane and Jim Bob up to VP levels. I know they’ll be passing up the director level altogether, but they’ve achieved such great results this past year. I think they deserve the bump. They can keep their same teams—just have it be a direct line to their managers, the other VPs, again, not a real change in authority, just a bump for a recognition of a job well done.

Let me know if you have any questions.


Sent: September 20
From: HR
Subject: Chief of Compassion


I’m a little confused by this title. I could find no comparable title anywhere, so can’t find any comps for pay. Also, I’m not sure how to even write a job description for it, let alone map out how he can be successful at it. I’m worried that we are setting a dangerous precedent for unreal job titles. Can you please give me more detail on how this person will succeed and what they should be doing?

Regarding the bump for Jane and Jim Bob: Have you spoken to their managers about this? Both of their managers have expressed grave doubts that these two should move up to director, let alone VP, level. Can we discuss this before you move ahead with it? Again, I’m worried that we are setting a dangerous precedent regarding promotions that could lead to a free-for-all and more of a popularity contest.

The last issue is that we still have Steve to consider. You bumped him to director last year, and he has completely failed. As a sales guy, he was great, but he can’t manage his way out of a paper bag. Everyone thinks we should move him back to sales, but they don’t want me to take away his title. If he’s one of the salespeople, he can’t have the director title. And we’ll have to move his payback in line with the rest of the outside sales team.

How would you like me to proceed on these?


Sent: September 21
From: CEO
To: HR
Subject: Chief of Compassion and Other Matters


As we discussed multiple times, this is a brand-new innovative position, so I’m certain you won’t find comps—we are the first! Don’t worry about a job description; we’ll just play it by ear. If I’m happy with his performance at the end of the year, he’ll get to keep the title. If not, we’ll just move him back to his old role.

Jim Bob and Jane came from my old company, with much higher titles than we started them at, so these promotions have been a long time coming. I know them better than their managers, and I am completely comfortable moving them into these roles. I am fairly confident they will grow into them in due time. Their managers are just jealous because I have a closer relationship with Jim Bob and Jane due to our previous work relationship—and that I am the godfather to Jane’s kids. Besides, I already informed them about it. Your role is merely to make it formal. No need to discuss it further.

Just move Steve back to sales and take away the title. I’m tired of everyone whining about this one. He sucked as sales director, and if he wants to keep his job, he can go back to his old role. He can go talk with Randy as our new Chief of Compassion if he wants a shoulder to cry on. I’m done with it.



These days it’s trendy to have new and trendy titles: Director of First Impressions, Chief Inspiration Officer, Chief Evangelist, Chief Risk Officer, Chief Fun Officer, and Chief Diversity Officer. C-suite titles should be for those major functions that are needed to run the company, executives, operations, sales and marketing, finance, and technology or IT. Occasionally you’ll have research and development in that mix, but only if that is a significant product or service area for the company. The problem with made-up titles is that they come with real salaries, job descriptions, and expectations. Someone has to put that on their résumé and explain to someone else what they did in that position. Ill-defined positions reflect poorly on both the employees and the company. It can get muddy very quickly. Decide on the business structure for the organization and stick to it with defined paths for employees to move through the ranks if they choose to. Make sure that what is expected and required to succeed is crystal clear. Pay fairly based on comparable positions at like-sized organizations in similar regions.

When we promote someone based on anything other than real reasons—such as actually earning it—there are all sorts of problems that follow: entitlement, fiefdoms, pay inflation, incompetence, unclear expectations, and resentment. When we finally decide that this person is failing, it’s usually too late to save them. No one wants to move back to their old role and old pay. It’s humiliating.

Moving people up to garner loyalty is also a bad reason to promote and title creep. It wreaks havoc on the team and shreds the leader’s role as an impartial arbiter of talent and judgment. Titles need to be meaningful; employees need to know how to succeed, pay needs to follow titles, and all of it needs to be transparent.

To purchase a copy of How (NOT) to Build a Great Team click here.