10 “Don’ts” to a Better Workplace – 4. Don’t Allow Title Abuse

“That’s not our job.” “We have to find out who’s responsible!” “He can do that, he’s been here long enough and knows what he’s doing.” These and others are things we’ve likely all heard in our workplace, and too many companies downplay or ignore these situations with attitudes like “It’s just the way it’s always been done”, or “It’d be too difficult to change”. But if companies can embrace change and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary, they can improve productivity and increase employee morale. This is one in a series of 10 changes (in no particular order) that can be implemented toward achieving that goal.

4. Don’t Allow Title Abuse

Titles can be a great (and inexpensive) reward for employees to recognize exemplary work and define responsibilities. For them to have any meaning they should reflect an appropriate level of responsibility, knowledge, and quality of work – however, given the typical range of potential levels associated with a title (junior, senior, lead, principal, etc), there is often an opportunity to provide employees with a boost in title, which can often raise their esteem (both self and from others), workplace satisfaction, and even the quality of their work as they strive to live up to the level the title implies.

However, there are potential pitfalls with this type of recognition as well. While a title can and should be a sign of a certain level of consistent contribution of work, that work is always in the past and a title is no guarantee of the quality of work going forward.

The problem occurs when the person starts to assume that the quality of their contributions should be considered and measured by their title rather than on their own merits, or use them as an excuse to avoid work or responsibilities that they believe are now “beneath” them. Titles, particularly in an Agile environment, should never be allowed to be used as a way to win an argument, avoid tasks perceived as “mundane”, or in any other way as leverage to manipulate a situation.

That doesn’t mean that members of a team shouldn’t defer to other members that may have more experience or knowledge about a situation than they do. It also doesn’t mean that everyone should do the same level of tasks regardless of complexity or difficulty. It’s perfectly natural that in most situations the “senior” member of the team’s time and effort would be better spent on work requiring more knowledge and experience rather than tasks considered more basic. It just means that that those decisions and deference should come from a place of respect, open team decision making, and honest debate, not because of a title.  (Of course, the situation is different when final decision making is a defined responsibility of the title, such as management roles.)

Titles can be an effective form of recognition, but they’re never a shortcut to respect. Don’t allow people to rely on their titles to define what they don’t “have” to do or utilize them to exert unwarranted power over situations. Strive to create and foster a team environment that relies on open discussion, debate, and decision making to solve problems within a team regardless of titles.

Have you seen examples of title abuse in your company? How does your organization handle titles within a team? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



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