Tag Archives: management education

What’s In A Title?

Author:
Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

I once faced a client situation where I was asked to uncover why a Senior Accountant (non-exempt) reported to an Accountant (exempt).  This same company used the title “supervisor” to describe individual contributor positions and it was not uncommon for Managers to report to Managers and Directors to report to Directors.

Given that these situations occurred in a large and presumably sophisticated company, one might ask – is there really a problem here?  What’s the big deal, and is anyone being harmed?  Advocates would say that offering an employee a special title is a harmless and inexpensive reward, one that doesn’t raise employer costs.  It also improves the morale of affected employees.

Where do these scenarios come from?

  • Managers grant esoteric titles to those for whom they have limited means of reward.  “They won’t let me give you the salary increase I think you deserve, but let’s change your title to xxxxx”.  Like greasing a squeaky wheel for a short term fix they want to do *something* to keep the employee quiet / motivated / not thinking of leaving.
  • Employees are given job opportunities (titles) where none should exist.  Have you experienced the long serving Secretary / Administrative Assistant promoted to the newly created role of Office Manager, all while performing the same job?
  • As a salve to employees a “special” title is used because somehow the position (usually clerical) is considered so different from other jobs that it needs to be specifically identified.  Special titles can also be seen as reflecting on the importance of the managers themselves.

In my experience it is usually those in management who consider themselves “above the fray” who do not see title inflation (puffery) as a problem.  Interestingly enough, that level of management can be severely put out if the same title giveaway happens within their hierarchical level.

At the risk of being called Mr. Gloom & Doom, let me explain the type of harvest that you can expect from planting these problem “seeds”.

  • Role clarity (job duties, business impact, decision-making, etc.) behind questionable titles will become blurred.  This in turn would generate more confusion as the company creates Senior Managers and Group or Area Directors and other in-between titles in the hierarchy to differentiate the “real” jobs from the inflated titles.
  • When attempting to determine the competitiveness of your positions the less accurate the title is in relation to the work performed, the more likely your analysis will be skewed.  Benchmarking unique, employee-specific and inflated titles will make a correct assessment of your competitiveness more difficult.  This could have real cost impact.
  • Those with inflated titles will expect whatever perks or privileges that normally accompany the title and their absence could cause difficulties.  It’s an awkward conversation when you tell an employee that the import of their new level in the organization is “title only”.
  • Inflated titles can be a detriment to incumbents as well, such as the “Director” who now only qualifies for a “Manager” title with a prospective employer.  These employees have limited opportunities outside your company because other employers would be reluctant to hire someone where the title is lateral or even backward to what they currently hold.  The result could be that mediocre performers remain with your company because they have no where else to go.
  • The natural extension of inflated titles is inflated grades / salary ranges, as the bogus “senior” position would be placed in a higher grade than the “intermediate” position, right?  This practice will gradually increase your fixed costs without a corresponding rise in either performance or capability.
  • Some employees legitimately find themselves in a dead end job, and granting them a cosmetic title as a salve doesn’t help anyone.  Lead or supervisory mail clerk?  Or the “supervisor” that no one reports to?
  • Employees do not like giving up these inappropriate titles.  Thus employee relations / morale issues will likely develop if you try to correct poor past practices.  You may have to develop creative “buy out” scenarios or grandfather employees.

If you are in a situation with inflated, redundant and confusing job titles, what steps can improve your lot?

  • Organize a Spring cleaning exercise:  start with the low hanging fruit by eliminating (deleting from your systems) all titles that are unoccupied.
  • To avoid backsliding you should accompany that initiative by implementing tighter procedural requirements necessary before a “new” title can be authorized.  While perhaps only a finger in the dike or closing the barn door after the horses have left, you must cut off the flow of new problems before you can effectively address the core issue of incumbents.
  • The company would need fewer job descriptions if the wording was more generalized.  Standardized titles would clear away much of the role responsibility confusion while clarifying an employee’s duties.

Especially in clerical positions, the general nature of duties for most positions (filing, record keeping, secretarial, forms processing, correspondence, etc) lends itself to standardization – which in turn makes it easier to move employees from position to position without having to “promote” someone when their title changes.

Bear in mind though, that title standardization makes more sense in a conference room than it does during an employee discussion.  A “Senior Depository Research Clerk” will always sound more important than a “Clerk III” or even “Senior Clerk”.

Companies try to reduce the number of titles whenever a new HRIS is established (that’s usually when the huge number of active titles becomes widely known).  Anyone who has been exposed to the process of implementing an HRIS (SAP, Peoplesoft, Oracle, etc.) will tell you that job title standardization is a key component of the project.

However there is always a degree of passive resistance when individual leaders realize that *their* area is being cleansed of superfluous / redundant / misleading titles.

Fewer titles can mean more role clarity in your organization, greater accuracy in assessing pay competitiveness, more control of labor costs and indeed higher morale as employees know where they stand and what they must do to succeed in your organization.

A final caution: be careful of setting up titles without occupants “in case we want to promote someone down the road.”   Guess what?  You will.

More About Chuck:

Trends in Leadership Development – Part 1

lexierwandaqwAuthors:
Lex Lindeman and Han van der Pool – HR Boosters

Leadership is the most important condition for success in organizations. Quality of products and services, improvement of sales results and innovation are all positively influenced by leadership development within a company.  Leading organizations believe development for executives and managers should be an integrated part of their company strategy. Globalization, company growth, and the continuous introduction of new technologies require new skills for company leaders.  In the end, it is leadership that determines the economic performance of the company.

Executives Are Taking Charge of Their Own Development

Research shows that executives who take care of their personal development have a competitive advantage.  Leadership development has also a big influence in the way employees can exploit their knowledge and competencies, and also enhances the retention of talented staff.

Organizations are now offering more and more proactive leadership development within individual development plans.  According to a survey of the American Management Association (AMA), more than 25% of organizations spend more than one-third of their annual training budget on leadership development programs.  Some of the latest leadership development approaches include:

  • External leadership development programs organized by universities, executive training institutes and training through professional companies
  • Internal leadership training programs
  • Temporary ‘stretch’ assignments which help an individual to develop new skills and competencies
  • International assignments to obtain new experiences
  • External leadership training organized by consultants
  • Job rotation
  • Formal mentoring programs

Of course, not all learning takes place in a formal training situation. Experience based on internal and external studies for the US Department of Labor (1995) into the way in which high performing leaders learn, indicates that formal training is just 10% of how people learn.

High-Teach, High-Tech, High-Touch

In the current competitive market, Human Resource professionals always try to find ways to organize training in the most effective way.  Some options:

  • High-Teach methods are all methods aimed at the person to ensure that learning takes place as effectively, pleasantly and efficiently possible.  High-Teach is all about learning and lesson methods.  From an initial interview, specific learning objectives for the participant are formulated, and the learning methods and instruments are adapted to the participants, their context and the characteristics of the competencies.
  •  High-Tech methods are all the applications and instruments which can be offered for preparation, deepening or development of subjects on-line with a computer
    (e-Learning).  E-Learning is common for both applications training (learning to work with software packages) and for general managerial skills.  This method is usually very efficient; a participant can learn at a moment of his choice wherever he is.  By means of the computer, you can gather knowledge, but real insight in your own person, or to practice skills and behaviors, you’ll need to interact with others.  The computer doesn’t offer that interaction, yet the bulk of your development always takes place in relation to others.
  • High-Touch methods are all working methods which are aimed to deepen and intensify contact with the participant.  This process requires confidence and security for openness, and the courage to explore.  It is always the mutual connection which makes the moment instructive.  Inviting people to openly explore new ideas is the nature of High-Touch.

Coaching Methods

Coaching is considered as a flexible and confidential communication from both sides in which an executive can give feedback, and receive support and recommendations. Executive coaching is organized in three different manners.

  • Feedback Coaching is direct feedback given within the framework of a personal development plan, and addresses specific questions (duration: on average up to three months).
  • In-Depth Coaching is a close and deep relationship between the executive manager and a coach.  During the sessions, they work on specific and mostly personal questions (average duration: from six up to twelve months).
  • Substantive Coaching provides leaders with support to address substantively complex questions with the objective to increase skills, capacities and competencies (duration: variable).

In successful leadership development programs, several methods are often used.  Support from top management and a strong link to strategic questions are conditions for success.  The outcome of the programs must help the managers to solve questions from their daily business practice.

Recent Developments

Creative and non-traditional programming is becoming more and more important.   Traditional course programs in an auditorium are de-emphasized, and there is a clear movement from High-Teach to High-Touch.  Some organizations also add High Tech elements to their programs.

Other recent developments include:

  • Tailor-made programs developed specifically for the company by consultants and universities in which current questions and strategies are carefully observed.
  • The development of ‘action learning’ programs such as the so-called ‘journey programs’ in which managers are exposed to problems which can only be solved through good teamwork and perseverance.
  • Elaboration of personal development plans with coupled feedback, coaching and execution of specific tasks.
  • Increasing attention to acquiring technical skills and sharing knowledge.

In my next post, I will provide additional, in-depth insights into several of these recent innovations.

In Summary

Organizations have to deal with a range of challenges to anchor leadership. Research has shown (Tichy, 1997) that successful organizations have several leaders, at each level of the organization.  This starts at the top.  Leaders with an established reputation and a track record of success are the best learning masters for others and future leaders.  Developing leadership in an organization is not possible without the commitment of the top leaders in the organization.

More About Lex:

Why Managers Don’t Manage Pay

bio_400x4003Author:

Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

When an employee is promoted to their first manager’s position, they are given the proverbial Keys to the Kingdom – your company.They now have the authority to spend your company’s money.From hiring, to promotions, to salary reviews and equity adjustments they are now able to make the decisions that directly impact (increase) your labor costs.

However, most of these managers turn out to be, at best, well intentioned amateurs at the process of making pay decisions that are appropriate for the needs of the business.Fresh from being anointed they often lack the basic internal education necessary to make business vs. emotional decisions – and their actions commit you and the company to costs that may not be in your company’s best interests.

Actions taken by these managers not only increase direct costs, but often irritate other staff members as the circumstances become known, creating morale and internal equity problems at the same time.The net result is usually a corresponding lack of engagement and ultimately separations by disenchanted employees.

Note:  Most employees leave managers, not companies.Thus actions do have consequences.Likely this is not what you envisioned when you made that promotional decision.

Now, how did (fill in the name of your company here) get themselves into this mess?

First of all, no one *really* trains managers on how to properly attract and reward employees via base salaries and incentive pay.

A few anecdotal examples:

  • Just because some bloke is a good “XYZ Operator” does not mean they will be an equally good “XYZ Manager”.The skill sets for success are dramatically different.
  • How many managers understand your company’s philosophy about pay?Do you?How many understand the workings (the what and the why) of the company’s pay practices and methodology?These are the folks responsible for spending 40% to 60% of your revenue in the form of employee pay, and even the most well-intentioned is prone to make mistakes.
  • Managers want to be liked; they do not wish to pick favorites, do not want to discriminate on the basis of performance and definitely do not want to have their decisions challenged.They would rather point a finger at HR and assign the blame to them for having to assess performance and distinguish one employee from the other.Left to their own devices they would give everyone as much as they can.

If you were a high performing employee, would you like to work for this sort of Manager?If you were coasting at work, barely putting your time in, would you want to work for this sort of Manager?Which sort of employee do you think will eventually tire of being undervalued, and quit? Leaving the Manager with a staff of . . . .You get the picture.

Ineffective managers are always afraid that an unhappy employee will decide to quit, but that is usually a selfish thought.Their prime concern is more often what your departure would mean to their deliverables, to their reputation as a manager.Your departure is typically viewed as an inconvenience to them, not an avoidable loss for the company.A reflection of this is when managers resist a transfer that is clearly in the employee’s career interests.The manager’s concern is how that transfer affects their department – and whether their personal success becomes that much more difficult to attain.

Ineffective Managers can be a defensive lot, challenging attempts at reform.Why?Because of their fear that spotlighting reform action will demonstrate their ineffectiveness (make them look bad), and that is unacceptable.Typically their advantage within the company is that the more ineffective the manager, the stronger their political connections. And as senior management oftentimes surround themselves with those most agreeable to their own way of thinking, it’s not surprising.

Assuming the company’s willingness to make key decisions and the presence of the all-important support from senior management, companies can correct the problems that they’ve created.They can:

  •  Select candidates for management positions on the basis of their skills / potential for actual management (dealing with people, managing projects, business-oriented, professional demeanor, etc.
  • Educate Managers in the philosophy and methodology of the company’s pay programs, ensuring that this information is shared with their staff
  • Construct job specifications that call for a Manager to manage, as a prime accountability, limiting or even eliminating the retention of individual contributor responsibilities
  • Measure and reward the performance of the Managersprimarily on the basis of how they have actually managed their employees, or on the performance of their unit
  • Encourage Managers to develop the potential of their employees, to the point that a staff member being promoted / transferred upward is a mark of success for the Manager
  • Ensure that procedural checks and balances are in place to ensure that pay decisions are reviewed by at least one higher level
  • Hold Managers to an annual salary budget; let them develop the budget and monitor / adhere to it during the year

Consider the above as a checklist that can be used to test your company’s vulnerability to wasted money, employee morale problems / turnover and avoidable cost increases.

Would you be comfortable with how your own company would score?

My advice to clients is to face these issues straight on, to implement policies & procedures that save money without penalizing high performers or mistreating their employee base.But the challenge will always remain, as there is an inherent reluctance on the part of many managers to make the tough decisions, because we do want to be liked, we do like to give good news, and we do not like to play judge and jury with an employee’s career.

But that behavior is not managing is it?