Sunday, 11 April 2010

Much ado about nothing

People get very worked up about their job titles. It seems to be a matter of life and death whether you are an Assistant General Vice President or a Deputy Senior Group Executive. On this gloomy Sunday, a typically dreary , foggy, day in Guangzhou, I decided to do a learned treatise on job titles .

Some people lay great store on the words in their job titles. Vice President is a very commonly coveted title. In some banks I know, you join as a fresher with the title Vice President! But then how do you differentiate yourself from the hordes of vice presidents around ? (Its an interesting aside that in politics the least desirable post is that of the Vice President, but in business, it seems to be a coveted title). So you become a Senior Vice President or a Group Vice President or preferably a Group Executive Senior Vice President.

Another fixation is “General”. You want to be a “General Manager”. As opposed to a “specific manager”, I presume. You can have the choice of Deputy, Chief, Senior, etc etc to embellish your being a General Manager. And then you get stupid acronyms such as SDCGM.

Lower down the totem pole, the salivation is over the simple “manager”. People are willing to kill to become a "manager". You have the choice of Executive, Associate, Consultant, etc etc as stepping stones with the usual variants of senior, vice, etc etc. You can also be an Executive Associate Consultant, if you wish.

Some companies try to impose global job titles without regard to how they may be perceived locally, often to much amusement. Many years ago, I was a lowly flunky and I was taking my boss's boss to a very senior official in a bank. Our worthy was designated as “Treasurer”. I was pulled up in no uncertain terms by the bank honcho for bringing a cashier with me for such an important meeting !! More recently we have “Engagement Managers” around. One visa official was so intrigued by this title that he spent the entire visa interview with this person enquiring who she was engaged to !

You know you have gone too far in embellishing job titles when your secretary is “Head of Verbal Communications” , the window cleaner is “Vision Clearance Engineer”, the ticket inspector is “Revenue Protection Officer”, the maid is the “Crockery Cleansing Operative”, and the teacher is “Knowledge Navigator”. No kidding; these are real job titles – I didn’t make them up.

In the new world, some companies have taken to unusual titles. I have met a “Valued Member” of XYZ Inc whose boss was “Most Valued Member”. Without a doubt, in 5 years there will be a Executive Senior General Most Valued Member ! A very famous leader himself adopted the rather unusual title, Gardener. In fashion is becoming a mentor. One nanny country even has a Minister Mentor.

In reality the correct and true designation must be Employee No 12345. That’s exactly how companies treat their employees – as a number. Despite all the pious and hypocritical blah blah of how people are the most valuable resource of a company, the reality is that you are a faceless number. That’s the sad truth of the industrialised world.

Yours truly
Lao Ming Zhi
Employee No 50001.


Sandhya Sriram said...

Me First (before GILS)

Sandhya Sriram said...

ROTFL :-)how true

one puts so much fight to move to the next level that when it comes, it is like a huge relief. but on the ground, one of the visible changes which one sees in addition to a change of role is a change of title. and when one sees a relative progression, it gives an emotional satisfaction i guess. after all, we are humans and not machine no. 23414

But the fact is that we have overdone either due to too much creativity or lack of creativity. and when we flash this across in the outside world, some of these have gone out of context.

One factory commercial manager (now without the designation how do i explain to your other readers who i am referring to??) was called factory accountant and his assisstant was called accounts officer. When they landed up in the excise office, in the government hierarchy, an officer is considered to be a higher designation and hence the excise department assumed the officer to be incharge and gave him a chair and tea etc and asked the factory accountant to stand next to him.... :-)

Sandhya Sriram said...

B.t.w - Ramesh - really keen to understand why you call yourself Lao Ming Zhi.. Can you kindly elaborate for gyana soonya like me

Thiru K'ung Tzu said...

@Sandhya - That's really my name. When I first came to China, I was given a Chinese name (because there's no way for them to write non Chinese names - the language not being alphabetic). So my colleague gave me this name and it appears on my business card and I use that in communication with Chinese. It is supposed to mean hard working, not so quick witted, or something like that. My colleague , who's a stunning girl by the way, decided my looks are not worthy of being named after and therefore the most flattering she could find was hard working !!

Your factory example has happened to scores of Factory Accountants in the good old company. In fact the Finance Director used to be called National Accountant once upon a time. Nobody in the Indian business environment could understand that !

Sandhya Sriram said...

oh God!! i never thought one would have to change your name coz you change his place of work...

so people really call you lao ming zhi! what a practice it would require to get used to being called with a name which would have otherwise been difficult to even pronounce.

Ramesh - the minute i end up settling that i cannot find a more amazing personality than you, you come across as an even more amazing personality!! you are out of the world!!

Thiru K'ung Tzu said...

@Sandhya - Oh; its not as extreme as that. I am called by my usual name in office. You can just take a Chinese name for the business card (business cards are a big thing in business culture here), but never use it. Its just that I find it a little nicer to reach out to the Chinese with a Chinese name; just more polite that way. That's all. Chinese names are written in the opposite way to Christian names - So Lao is supposed to be the surname and Mingzhi is supposed to be the given name.

Sabareesan said...

Ramesh having moved around different locales and working with different people and different personality types, I agree that in this world, an employee is at best an employee number.

ambulisamma said...

I know few instances where companies really created a title just to please someone.

And in our TN politics we have 'Thunai mudhalvar' now, soon there cud be 'inai mudhalvar'(For alagiri)

In the fashion companies are also functioning.

Ramesh said...

@Sabareesan - Nice to see you back here after a while. Very unfortunate what work life has come to. Reeduced to being a number. In the old Tamil movies ordinary policeman used to be called by their numbers. That's exactly the situation in companies today.

@ambulisamma - That's usually how a titles such as DCGM gets created - to please someone. On TN politics; don't even start. There's a real danger of the state being split into two. We must collectively hold our heads in shame to allow such things to happen.

Deepa said...

I know a fresher who is a VP in a global bank. And all this while I was so awestruck by this fellow! Damn!

To think of, even if somebody gave me the luxury of choosing a title for myself in the Bangalore office, I wouldn't know what to call myself. And I think people around me also didn't know, coz when the new gal came in my place, she was introduced as "the new Deepa" to the team. :D

I think you are being too hard on the industry for looking at their employees as mere numbers! Nowadays even employees treat companies as mere pit stops! The reality is harsh only for those who value the badge they wear.

Ramesh said...

@Deepa - Aha Deepa; you are very special. You transcended your role so much that you became the job title - I very much recall "the new Deepa" quote. I did the same with "the new Emma".

Sure employees treat companies as pit stops. Companies deserve nothing more. If they treat somebody as a number, they deserve to be likewise treated.

ambulisamma said...

We need a split in TN one with northern districts and chennai as capital,other with southerns and madurai as capital,dont we? After all there was all mess in AP for telengana,shld we not do sopmething in TN?

Well,even i was surprised wen one of my colleague went into Deutsche bank as VP,then my boos told me that VP is just the 'title' and nothing to do with it really.

Anonymous said...

super topic :D :D we once had a mini revolt in my previous company were many of my colleagues had reservations in being labelled/designated as software support consultant. They felt that the word "support" would be a stumbling block wen they go out in search of a job as people look down on support people. Management bowed down and changed their desig to tech consltnt 1,2,3. :D their nature of work remained the same..except that they didnt wanted to be called by the work they do!! inshort they want to lie in their resumes, describing their work in all phony language to glorify it to earn more bucks :D nothing wrong in that. But still if one is so shy of being addressed by the work they do..they shdnt be doing it in first place would be my philosophy. throughout my fledgling career i've always been a support guy and me the proud of it :D


RamMmm said...

ROTFL many times.

I can absolutely relate to the multi-tagged redundant high sounding names which a lot of them had in my previous company. :-)

ungalukku eppaddeenga ippadi topics kedaikkudhu. :-) :-) ungalukku designation paththi thamaash pannaththukku, inimael designation kedaiyaadhu, only #50001. :-D

The IT crowd is the one that leads the tag brigade. As gils noted, ego clashes are very common.

Ramesh said...

@ambulisamma - Please, please tell me you are joking.

@gils - Hurray gils. Very noble. You are absolutely right - if somebody is ashamed of what he is doing, he shouldn't be there in the first place.

@RamMmm - Ramblings of an idle mind - so I wax floridly on everything !! Not only IT, every sector is cursed with this. Ippadikku #50001 :)

gils said...

thalaivaray..tamil abbr. for VP is vetti paiyan :D :D i've 10 years exp in that :D :D so she cud've been true :D :D

kiwibloke said...

Nice blog. I once went for a job interview (late 90s during the tech boom)with a Koramangala startup which offered me a lot of paper (shares), little money(had a wife and a 15 day old boy) and a fancy choice of titles: Resident Revolutionary (a.k.a Change Manager)or Technology Evangelist (IT Enabling Change Manager) I loved the titles but then the little money/lot of paper stuff did'nt help
PS: In retrospect should have taken it - the paper grew to a lot of money after the IPO and I could have been right now well retired in NZ instead!

Ramesh said...

@Gilsu - you are now promoted as P (still waiting for your review of the movie with the same name) !!

@Kiwi - Resident Revolutionary sounds a bit communist! Won't fit you at all !!

Vishal said...

Indeed, there are few people who just want to be fixed to these designations such as GM, VP or Manager for that matter.

What is more important is the work that one does and the level of sincerity and perseverence that one brings to the table. People truly remain unforgotten for the work that they do and not for the rank that they possessed. It is not about what you have, I think. It is about what you offer.

Beautiful post, Lao Ming Zhi :-)

Neelesh said...

All these while I was thinking the Emp No 50001 was the first person in China.. Now I understand what it is and it is really nice to retain the same.
Will have to change this name in my Mobile directory, Ha Ha...

BTW, the Global word looks catchy for the new joinees somehow without knowing the real inner lining for the same. In todays world everyone thinks Global means big, but I feel it as Small World.

LG said...

A nice one! Precisely, business have only minds and a little or no hearts (rather majority of 'em)- #50XX9.

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - There are many people for whom designations is almost the be all and end all. Real pity.

@Neelesh - Oh it was my old employee number in India as you might have guessed.Yes; you have to call me Mingzhi (try and get the pronounciation right !!_)

@LG - Welcome back LG. Nice to see you back. Yeah heart is a rare commodity in business these days ...

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