Are Job Titles Participation Trophies for Grown Ups?

Paul Hebert Compensation/Cash Money, Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, HR, Millenial Voice, Paul Hebert, Policies, politics

I’m not a big fan of generalizing generations and playing into a faux “millennial” industrial complex, making money convincing everyone that we need to reinvent the world because the millennials have arrived. In fact this member of “Generation Jones” is the one who sets up the tech in our house, knows how the network operates, gets the printer to work and explains how Google+ works to his 20-something kids.

But one thing I did notice as we raised our two millennial darlings is they did get trophies for everything: showing up, not showing up, most improved, least likely to get on base, most likely to foul out–you name it–they got a trophy for it. Looking back, I wish I had long gone in on wood bases and fake metal sports figurines. I’d be retired now.

The other day I was cleaning my kids’ rooms (they are in college now–time for the man cave), and as I packed away the 1,617 trophies my kids had “earned” over their ignominious youth sports careers I started thinking about all the Vice Presidents of Social Media and Digital Interpretive Dance and the Managing Directors of Parking and Bush Management at many of the companies I’ve called on in my career. In fact, don’t be surprised if the person who writes your name on the blue-bordered sticky “My Name is: ______” visitor badge is probably the Vice President of Company Egress Security.

Titles are Trophies

I’m thinking that with the pressure on profit and the need to increase engagement, the idea of “everyone gets a VP title” is simply one way companies have reacted to retention and turnover. Give the person a title they’d be happy to put on LinkedIn and you don’t have to worry about that extra 10% in their paycheck.

Hook them up with free parking and keep them with the VP title.

However, one thing that concerns me is that once everyone is a Vice President–are there any real Vice Presidents? When VP titles meant something, you could hire someone with a VP title and be comfortable they knew how a P&L worked and they’d probably hired, fired and coached employees. VPs in my day understood strategy and tactics and had a pretty commanding knowledge of an industry. I don’t find that too much today. Now, when I look at all the VPs in the LinkedIn stream I wonder if, in reality, they have simply “manager” level experience and a millennial appeasing title?

And if this is in fact true–that titles have gotten inflated to keep people happy–do we have to now hire “CEOs” to fulfill the roles of Director or Vice President? Because we know everyone is CEO of their own career right?

I think from a retention standpoint maybe we shouldn’t hand out titles like beads at Mardi Gras. Maybe the strategy is to keep titles representative of the real work being done so the employee isn’t looking to cash in on the title boon and go apply for a new position where the pay matches the pomp.

What say you–has the trophy inflation of millennial sports invaded the boardroom?

Are titles pretty much irrelevant today?