Of Titles, Age and Angst
In the world of business and technology consulting, a persons capabilities often are measured by his title. His aptitude and wisdom appear to grow in stature as the title loses its activity-based nature and assumes the mantle of hierarchical power.
Although developers, data analysts, systems integrators, database administrators, et. al. can possess great vision and often provide cross-functional solutions and business advice, these role-bearing titles present a picture of singular talents. The manager (provide your own descriptive prefix), on the other hand, is appreciated as the one with multiple talents and the business view. Furthermore, a person with no pecking-ordered-title finds his standing diminished with age. Those charged with hiring frequently look askance at a candidate with many years of experience and no Pooh-bah in his title.
During my twenty-five plus years of business and technology consulting, I have accumulated and discarded many titles, most with connotations peculiar to the organizations bestowing them. These titles seldom translated across organizations, and rarely translated across specialties within the same organization. The most illustrious title I managed to snare was team leader. That may sound pretty lame for a practice manager, but it had panache in the Wisdom of Teams mentality of the time.
In leading the development team within the technology consulting group of a regional accounting firm, my status and the status of my associates mirrored the hierarchy of the accounting establishment. Billing rates were tightly tied to ones rung on the titular ladder. I quickly switched to market-driven billing rates for my team members. Technology was changing fast, and certain skills were in high demand. An associate on my team could have multiple billing rates, depending on roles played and her evolving expertise. This was good for the bottom line and good for personal growth, but unfathomable to the accounting side of the business.
I suggested we let our team members choose alternative titles that we could use for marketing activities. At the time, I was intrigued by two business owners with cards anointing one as President on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other as President on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The two claimed it was a great conversation opener. Given the staid business climate I operated in, my suggestion did not take.
I proceeded to write promotional resumes for each member of the team. These pieces were short, playful and demonstrated multiple software lifecycle roles for each associate. Team members preferred the promos to their resumes, partly because they were infused with personality, and partly because results eclipsed titles. My own promo began with Esther likes to say, They pay me to think'. You can well imagine the comments that provoked. (I came to the concept of creating desired perceptions without titles through personal experience.)
Several years into my career, I accompanied a practice manager to a manufacturing client in
At one point, the organization I worked for launched an in-house contest to come up with a new phrase for the acronym TQM, to replace Total Quality Management. Suggestions were published in the company newsletter, and associates could vote. I submitted the acronym TQtM, with the phrase Think Quality, think Mother. This entry was accompanied by an article, where I expounded on the qualities of and need for a project Mother, a non-gender-specific person who would give the project team its roots and then its wings.
All reference to this contest soon disappeared from the company newsletter. I ran into the editor, and asked about this oddity. She told me the contest was suspended, because Mother was winning. While I espoused unconventional titles, the organization was not attuned to my way of thinking. As team leader, I opted to stay in a cube, rather than move to an office. This confused people. An eccentric title with no trappings of success projected the wrong visual cues. Managers sat in offices; mail was delivered to offices. I sat in a cube; ergo, no mail delivery.
With age came some wisdom, however small. I recognized that most of us muddle through life as best we can, and a top accolade would be Master Muddler. Despite this insight, the subject of titles produced increased angst, a sort of philosophical anxiety. When I worked for a flat organization, my title became broadly generic. Senior consultant, for example, conveyed wide capability, without specifics. When I worked for a stratified firm, my title narrowed, e.g. business analyst. I didnt much care what title I assumed, but I did care for my clients respect. Realistically, a title that conveys knowledge and experience makes people hear what you are saying and facilitates gaining the sought-after respect. As such, I much preferred the broader label, because the narrower one inferred limited talent. None of the titles, however, conveyed the aesthetic I was after: trust; business partner; problem solver; finding the better idea; work well done.
A coworker and I once submitted applications for a seminar. My colleague tendered Lord High Executioner for his title, and I put forward In Charge of Getting Things Done for mine. His manufactured title turned out to be prophetic, and I started getting mail addressed to: Esther Soloveichik, In Charge of Getting. Now, that gave me pause. Would I rather be in charge of getting or in charge of giving? Einstein said, He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.
I finally settled into the comfort of my name as my title. Like any artisan, I prefer to be asked for by name and reputation. And it is a rare joy to work with those select business partners who have a constant need to know, who are interested in results and truthful assessment, and who look for talented people who can work with otherswithout worrying who gets the credit. Well done is better than well titled.
Esther Soloveichik is a senior consultant with Intrasphere Technologies, a technology consulting firm with a core focus on life sciences. Intrasphere provides end-to-end technology services and has successfully implemented large-scale projects for some of the worlds leading global companies, including Pfizer, Schering-Plough, Novartis and Eli Lilly, among others.