Job Titles and Hierarchy

I have been thinking recently about job titles and hierarchies. They really a different depending on the size of the company you work for. Status is often attached to these words and make a big difference in how we treat each other.

I am not going to cover all of it. Mostly, I will be meandering incoherently. You have been warned. 😊

When you are in a small startup (10 people), your title might be Chief Product Officer, but in reality, you are just a PM. A VP in a 10 person startup is meaningless. Ultimately, I think titles have no purpose in a company this small. We only do it because our resumes demand it of us. Why can’t we agree that titles only show up when you have 40 employees?

In a 200 person company, you have enough people where a hierarchy is needed. Humans in society need hierarchies to get things done. We can’t all be in charge. We need ways to settle conflicts quickly. This is why armies have the more hierarchy imaginable.

Let’s focus for a moment on the Director level. I was trying to think what made someone a director. What were the qualities where someone should be promoted? I thought it was a confluence of the following attributes.

If you are just in the blue, you are a Manager. If you are pink, that’s an Architect or Principal. Green only is a consultant. To elevate to a director, you should begin to blend your skills so you fall into the middle. I might be missing lots of nuance, but this seems like a good start,

It’s easy to think some people do this and some people don’t by their very nature. However, I think it is entirely dependent on being given the opportunity to exercise these attributes. This is why I encourage people to promote from within and give people a chance to shine (or learn while trying).

I have seen (many times) people being given promotions because they have done a good job at their level, but then they fail to succeed at the Manager or Director level. Far too often people are given insufficient amounts of coaching.

Also, I have seen people languish at the mid-manager or even execution level because they have never been given the chance to lead.

None of this is easy for a company to navigate. Especially when you get into big organizations with thousands of people. I have so many questions.

  • Should you promote someone immediately when giving them a chance to lead? Or should you wait until they have proven themselves?
  • Does money always come with title?
  • How can we fix the inequities in pay throughout the corporate world?
  • What about inclusiveness? What’s the right balance to strike?
  • Training and coaching seems completely broken, how can we fix it?

I told you in the beginning, I wasn’t going to cover everything. Lately, I have been lax in blogging what was on my mind. So here you go.


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