Well.. I’m Just an Assistant – Effect of a Job Title on Productivity

by | Aug 3, 2010 | Blog, Performance Management

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or info@integrityhr.com

Job Titles Can Affect Productivity

A couple of weeks ago, we blogged about the psychological value of job titles with respect to the importance of establishing proper supervisory roles in the chain of command.  There is some good info in there.  If you missed it make sure to take a look with the link above.

Today we take a look at the effect that job titles have on human behavior and just how that might (and most likely does) affect the performance of your employees.

Many people hold a large amount of intrinsic value with their job title, which means there is a large likelihood that the name of one’s job title and what that title means to them can develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This follows another one of Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion called “Consistency.” (You’ll note we referenced Authority in the previous job title post).

For example, if you give a person a title like “Assistant” they are very likely to behave in accordance with that title. Now you might say, well if they are an assistant then they should behave like an assistant.  True, but what if they’re not an assistant at all?  What if the job paradigm your company lives by doesn’t fit the position anymore? What if this person or position has evolved to the point where they have been given many new responsibilities?

The label assistant no longer fits, and that’s a big deal to a lot of people.  You see people often identify themselves by their job titles.  If they’re stuck with a title that denotes something less than they are (or potentially could be), this could be a huge drain on their productivity.

In the above case this person will be more likely to behave like an assistant, and thus holding them back from their potential, until a change is made.

The reverse is also true. Those who are assigned titles like “Manager” “Manager of” “Supervisor” or other titles that denote success and power in their eyes, will feel inherently tied to those roles, will identify with them, and are more likely to behave consistently with them.

Job Titles Must Align With Your Company Culture

Of course there is an issue of title consistency across the organization. You want to be sure that your titles are consistent with the culture of your business as well as your employee handbook policies.

Of course you can’t give everyone titles like manager and supervisor. The value of your titles would be deflated in no time. But perhaps you can get creative.

For example Microsoft gives its product demonstrators and promoters the title of “Evangelist.” A business contact of mine calls his staff “Support Superstars.” Apple calls its staff at its retail locations “Geniuses.”  You know what I think when I hear those titles?  I think to myself, “that must be a cool company culture.  Odds are your employees will think the same thing.

Just be careful not to get too creative. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar after all, right Sigmund?  An important point to keep in mind is that your titles must align with your company culture, your chain of command, and your company policies  – otherwise they lose their value entirely (don’t get stuck in an old paradigm if your policies are out of date).

The point is to think about how your employees might feel about their job titles. Might people in your organization feel better about coming into work every day if they had titles that they were comfortable with, titles that made them feel like they were going somewhere, titles that allow them to feel great about handing over their business card to potential customers?

Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with traditional job titles, as long as those job titles are used properly.  I’m just saying, like Zappos, don’t be afraid to get your employees’ input about their job titles at their performance reviews.

What’s in a Job Title Takeaways:

Simply this.  Recognize the effect that job titles have on your staff.  You may have potential rising stars at your company who are stuck with a job title that is de-motivating to them.  Maybe they don’t even know it themselves.  But think about it. Who might those people be? Get their input.

Job titles have a larger effect on people than you might think.

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