THE GREAT JOB TITLE CHASE #6
This series of ‘TGJTC’ blogposts was originally prompted by an email signed by the Chief Deputy Auditor. Not Deputy Chief (the second in line) but Chief Deputy.
I imagine that there were more than one ‘Chief’ at that level too, just to keep everyone on their toes.
TGJTC #1 started with my General Manager role, which was a misnomer at best. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Subsequent postings about VP, CMO, Director and Partner tried to give each some context, definition and value, particularly separating legal and financial responsibility from camouflage.
You may have a different view because you have had different experiences in different contexts.
The longer I have spent in corporate/commercial life, the less the naming matters. The context of the role, how good you are, and how good the organization allows you to be - that’s where we find the important.
That came home a couple of weeks ago, after posting #5. Rummaging in books going to a charity shop, I found a spine-cracked edition of Charles Handy's "Gods of Management", first published in 1978.
Handy identified manager types and organization cultures, presented as a handy (sic) four types. He had no preference for any of the four archetypes since they co-exist in most organizations, so chose Greek god names, as they were all worshipped simultaneously.
None of them had job titles.
Zeus - the obviously leader God, expressing power in a 'club' culture. Members (employees) ally around a father/mother figure, often the founder. Like Louis XIV, s/he sits at the centre of the organization exuding rays of influence to all those within reach. There is no need for rules, procedures and little bureaucracy. One relationship with the top boss carries more weight than an official title or job description.
Apollo - the culture based on Roles, where order and rules keep the world aligned, and the pillars of the temple keep it in place. It places a premium on order and efficiency. In an organization, these strong pillars are functions, like finance, purchasing, production, sales. Above them, a small band of senior managers keep it all under control, in which responsibilities are clear and fixed. It’s the bureaucrat-administrator’s seventh heaven.
Athena - a task-based culture, where the preference is job- or project-orientated. A task culture brings together the right resources and people, then channels the unifying power of the group. Based more on expert rather than position or personal power, the focus is problem-solving not hierarchy.
Dionysus - by comparison, a personal culture (also known as ‘existential’ culture). The individual is the central focus; the culture exists to support the individual doing what they do. Those individuals decide to work together for mutual benefit - to share office space, equipment, clerical admin. As described in TGJTC #5, this is the culture of the professional; lawyers, architects, doctors and consultants.
In hindsight, bargaining for the GM title in Xerox was a complete red-herring. For the prior two years, the company had been educating is employees into the new "Document Company" strategy. Ditto, considerable spend went on showing the world the branding.
Yet customers still didn’t get it.
The bridge between the corporate centre and the customers was the sales teams. And they didn't completely get it either, so they couldn't sell it.
I'd spent two years writing / communicating / pitching the strategy, and when the UK Corporate Sales GM role came up, the country management board decided to take a risk on me – someone without Xerox direct sales experience.
Could this make a difference to the 16 most experience sales professionals? In turn, would that impact the minds of 60 corporate accounts? In hindsight, the job title was immaterial.
At the end of Year 1 of 'underachievement' (now that's a euphemism) at least some of the UK management board thought it was a poor idea. In a sales culture, that was made very clear.
By the end of Year 2, the team delivered 121% of plan.
That success wasn't because I was a Zeus-like General Manager. That's not what the organization, nor the team, needed at that time. With the benefit oh hindsight, for two years it had an Athena-Dionysius hybrid!
When I moved on, my successor was a dyed-in-the-wool Xerox sales leader who went on to do a much better job. The team and the company needed a Zeus back in the role.
By comparison, think about being in a Partnership (TGJTC #5). When a Dionysus culture grows too large for individuals to just do their own thing, an Apollo might be needed to impose structure and process. That’s painful, an embodiment of change.
(Ever seen those fantasy movies with the Gods on Olympus throwing lightning bolts at each other? You get the drift.)
Writing these posts and years of experiment - for me individually and for the organization collectively - lead me to the conclusion that while a job title should be somewhere on a shopping list, it isn't Top 10.
Sometimes the label is harmful to individual or collective success; sometimes it sends the wrong signal, internally or externally.
Sometimes it’s an invitation to improv; other times it puts down the very limits of possibility.
For all that a Job Title might mean or not, two things are for sure now - it's not something to be impressed by, and it's the last reason on the list for taking a role.
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