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Job Titles Can Tell More Than You Want Them To 3m Job Grades

Just a few weeks ago, I was working with a large company. We had several meetings, and I met many people. When I met someone new, we exchanged business cards. After I receive someone’s card, I only glance down long enough to see what the person does. Is this person from IT, marketing, finance, or H/R? It helps me gain some perspective on what his or her focus is going to be during our discussions.

When you get a business card, it also tells you much about the business. Now, I am not talking about logos, the kind of paper 3m job grades on which the information has been printed, nor am I looking to see if there is a calendar on the back of the card. Do you know what it is? The answer is the job title.

In working with many companies, I have seen it all. There have been some titles that I think had been written by great 3m job grades novelists. The creativity levels are high, and I think to myself “wow, I hope they are putting that creativity to good use.” Then you have the other end of the spectrum. The ones that have numbers in the titles are a perfect example. Have you ever met an “Accounting Manager 2?”

How does it feel when you go home to your husband and say “I was just promoted to Accounting Manager 2?” When someone asks you what you do, is your response “I am Accounting Manager 2?” Does it mean you are the Accounting Manager who steps in when “Accounting Manager 3” is ill?

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What does that kind of job title tell you? It often tells me that the organization is very hierarchical, rigid, bureaucratic, has numerous layers of management, and is slow to make changes. Job titles like this 3m job grades represent 1980’s thinking. It is often a sign there are layers of people and approval levels. Old style HR systems were set up this way to facilitate pay scales. Companies didn’t want overlap, and they liked keeping people tucked into tight job grades. It’s a way of sorting and tagging for employees. They put them into a nice tidy bin location – Accounting Manager 2.

A more robust way to do this is to get rid of all the numbers, and just create a wider job band. For example, the old job title of “Accounting Manager 2” becomes “Accounting Manager.” The pay range, which might have been $50-$75k now, is $50k to $100k. We don’t have to worry about promoting someone in order to give them a well deserved increase. It gives the organization more flexibility in slotting people, too. Along with these two benefits, there are other hidden savings. There is no need to maintain two job descriptions, there are fewer pay ranges to update, and the org chart is much easier to manage.

The key benefit is the employee feels empowered. There is one less layer of management to go through. He or she is valued as an “Accounting Manager,” and is respected and valued for his or her current breadth of skills.

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