By Hitendra Patil
I read with interest Ed Mendlowitz’s recent post “What’s in a Title?”
- Why are the job titles in accounting firms what they are?
- How did they come into existence?
- What was the purpose of designing the job titles currently in vogue across the accounting profession?
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Most likely, it is industry practice that creates the sameness in job titles. Ironically, management gurus tell us to differentiate, yet we resort to sameness!
Most likely the purpose of the job titles was to clarify internal hierarchies for the firm’s people. And maybe to reward the longevity of a person at the firm – if, of course, the person exhibited more capabilities along the way to seniority.
Most likely job titles also were intended to indicate key result areas. Most likely job titles grouped people into similar work profiles. Most likely job titles were used as quick indicators or benchmarks of responsibilities, seniority or pay scale.
Can job titles be used to (re)brand your firm?
When was the last time you saw the job title on a business card of someone else and thought “aha!”?
If you scratched your head, that’s the point! Sameness is boring!
Changing job titles to something more relevantly expressive can help rebrand your firm and even differentiate it competitively. Here’s why:
Harvard Business Review cited research by London Business School professor Dan Cable that indicates that job titles can be a mechanism for genuinely triggering better attitudes and improving recruitment.
The human mind is a complex thing, and job titles can be a very sensitive issue for many of your people. It could be a status symbol or it could be a damager or enhancer of self-esteem. It indicates capabilities, existing or expected.
But, like the compliance work done after the fact, job titles can be rear-view mirrors, subconsciously stating why a person reached a particular job title rather than what a person can do in the future.
Purpose-Driven Job Titles Can Motivate Performance
Let’s take an example.
Does your firm have a receptionist or a telephone operator (as in, “Dial zero for the operator”)? Let’s retitle it to “Director of First Impressions” or “Chief Officer of First Impressions.”
What does it tell your receptionist or operator? It tells her (or him), “You are not responsible for just receiving people or their calls and redirecting them to the relevant staff. The purpose of your job, and hence your responsibility, is to create great first impressions in the minds of our visitors or callers – every time.”
Purpose-driven job titles
- can motivate performance
- can make the job more meaningful for employees
- can help employees understand the true impact of what they do
- can guide employees to focus on skills that help them deliver better on the purpose of their job
Imagine you advertise for “Client Accounting Partner” or “Client Accounting Specialist” instead of “Staff Accountant.” Imagine you advertise for “Ledger Controller” instead of “Bookkeeper.”
Such job titles
- will make candidates curious and excited
- will attract more and better candidates to your firm
- will give a boost to self-esteem when people tell their family and friends their job title
- will help employees feel stronger self-identities and
- will tell them what the true impact of their work is
Over the next few years, millennials will form the majority of the work force at accounting firms. Studies indicate that there is a need in the younger generations to be self-expressive. Will it not be better to provide expressive job titles to the millennials?
I am sure you get the idea.
Job Titles Can Be Your Effective Marketing Message
Job titles communicate something to your prospects and customers. When you retitle your firm’s job titles, they can become more effective, automatic, subconscious-appealing marketing messages.
Your firm’s job titles can be:
- “position-based-purpose-driven” or
- “firm-culture-traits-driven” or
- “client-benefit-driven” and so on.
Some examples are:
When your clients see such job titles, the message to them is very strong. It tells them that “at this firm, it’s all about me (the customer).”
Let’s get a step ahead.
A new prospect signs the engagement letter. Now she is your client. You generally say something like:
“Welcome to John Doe CPAs’ growing family of satisfied clients. I am sure you will experience our world-class service quality soon. Our bookkeeper – Betty – will be your point of contact. And if you ever need management assistance, you can call our partner – Stephanie – on this phone number.”
What do you think will happen if you say something like this instead:
“We are thrilled to welcome you to John Doe CPAs’ growing family of delighted clients. We are sure you will experience our world-class service quality soon. Our Ledger Controller – Betty – will be your point of contact. If you ever need management assistance, just drop us an email and our Client Success Partner – Stephanie – will call you back within 24 hours.”
I am sure you get the idea.
Here are some more thoughts on retitling some common positions in accounting firms:
These are just a few examples and ideas to get you started. You can get creative, but one of the key things in retitling will always be to keep it such that clients and staff can make sense out of it. Being funky may be fun but it should always relate to fundamentals.
How to Create a Persuasive Job Titles Strategy
Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t just change job titles. Align job descriptions, too. Be consistent in the strategy you follow. For example, if you retitle “receptionist” to “Director of First Impression,” you must rewrite the job description to reflect how to make better first impressions, what skill sets are required to make better first impressions, how to measure first impressions (such as with a quick satisfaction survey card to be filled in by the visitor) and so on.
- Conduct market research and involve your people.
- Relate key performance indicators to the impact produced by new titles. Such indicators might include hiring time reduction due to new titles, percentage growth in the number of applications received due to new titles, etc.
- As you bring new personnel onboard, ask them if the job title played any role in attracting them to the job.
- Ideally, retitling should produce a desired behavior, or impact, for everyone involved – staff, partners, firm leaders, clients and other stakeholders such as vendors and bankers. So, find out the characteristics of behavior or performance new job titles can and should produce.
- Decouple grading within the same title groups: Avoid using prefixes such as "Senior." Will a senior business analyst be like a more experienced accountant? You can’t have a junior business analyst because of potential dissatisfaction by the client. You want to deliver the best possible service. Instead, you might retitle senior accountant as “Business Health Advisor.”
Again, these are just a few examples and ideas to get you started. Your turn now, Mr./Ms. Chief Inspiration Officer!