Many managers wonder what to do about titles and their team’s desire to climb the proverbial ladder. Here are 8 key considerations…

  1. The reason titles are so tricky is because they feed into people’s identity and sense of self-worth. They also are often (incorrectly) connected with compensation.  Compensation should reflect an employee’s ROI, contribution and versatility, rather than title.  Acknowledge that some people on the team are more experienced or simply better at their jobs, and that their pay reflects this contribution of knowledge, skills, and higher outcomes. You are “judged by your work, not your rank,” Matthew Prince, CEO of CloudFlare.  You should always be able to speak to “why does that person get paid more than I do?”
  2. Titles become even trickier when you have a culture of internal comparison. If your team is ambitious and competitive, have them focus on external competitors — rather than on one another — to get that “winning” high.  You want them to work together and support one another in beating the competition, not to undermine or be territorial with one another.
  3. If you already actively use titles, make sure there is alignment. When you look at your team and their titles, is there alignment?  Or do you have title inflation or inequity?  Avoid title inflation at all costs — it makes the titles meaningless and it makes it easier for your team to jump ship for a higher salary elsewhere. Team members will also jump ship if they feel like they are being treated unfairly — titles are often part of this equation.
  4. Have titles reflect roles rather than rank.
  5. In each role there’s an entry level and a level of excellence. Each employee should know all the pieces that contribute to going from entry to excellence.  They should have the opportunity over time to seek to learn, apply, master and mentor others on skills that would support mastery of the role.  You can make this into an official ladder with levels 1, 2, 3 etc. in each role — though know that to do this right, and have it be perceived as fair, you have to have objective measures — and it’s a significant amount of infrastructure to manage and maintain.
  6. The only differentiating title rank that is mission critical is that of management. Those who directly manage teams should have a manager title to empower their role.
  7. Some teams’ desire for titles and ladder-climbing comes from not knowing where they stand. A lack of feedback, appreciation and validation that they’re doing a good job will have them seeking clarity through this formal old-school methodology.  Feedback should be occurring weekly to appreciate those who are succeeding and support those who are struggling.
  8. If you’re a small company, don’t create a ladder that doesn’t exist. Instead mitigate expectations when hiring and let new hires know there is no ladder to climb.  Then share the benefits of being on a close-knit team and the experience of “we’re all in this together — all on the same team, wearing the same jersey.” You may even find this a beneficial principle to work from if you’re a larger organization.

And in other happy news…

  1. Check out #13 on the 2018 Top 100 Leadership Speakers List. Congrats to my fellow speakers also on the list, and thanks to @Kruse @LEADxLife for the shoutout!! Check out KrisBoesch.com to learn more.
  2. Catch my latest podcast appearance “Why Choosing People Over Profit Creates More Profit” on Dov Baron’s Leadership and Loyalty Show. Great show, @TheDovBaron!