Job Titles of the Future

For most people, titles are important.  They validate, provide focus and instil pride in one’s chosen role. Indeed, for some workers, a title is a critical ingredient in their organizational commitment and personal empowerment. Increasingly, businesses are reinventing titles as a means of inciting innovative thinking. And I have long supported the notion that a change in the language of the enterprise can augur a change in behaviours and performance.

Being creative about titles is one thing; being strategic quite another.  Novelty just for the sake of novelty can be confusing and counterproductive. Titles still need to define what people actually do and what their key responsibilities are because the formal role description is really meant to inform others – customers, clients and co-workers.

Some new titles are meant to clarify albeit in a benign way.  Intrawest, Molson Canada and Wal-Mart now refer to their senior HR executives as “chief people officers.” Emulating Japanese manufacturers, some retailers like to call their employees “associates.” Begs the question whether the name accurately reflects the reality.

As the workplace continues to change,  as the needs of new generations of employees are factored into the productivity/innovation equation, as the importance of intellectual capital (especially knowledge workers) is seriously recognized, and as new skills become essential for competing in the “flat” global economy, we will likely see a plethora of intriguing corporate titles come into being.

Here are just a few of the titles that are becoming commonplace:

  • Chief Growth Officer:  The role of the incumbent is to introduce creative ways to grow the business. The primary responsibility is to examine the business holistically and focus on new markets.
  • Director of Intelligence:  The principle role is to research, synthesize and disseminate information within the organization. The focus is primarily on “what we don’t know” and how we can become better informed about relevant technologies and trends.
  • Culture Team Leader:  The primary job focus is to help new hires adapt to the organization and succeed faster by swimming or rowing with the current rather than unknowingly and inadvertently going against the mainstream philosophy.
  • Chief Imagination Officer:  This individual’s responsibility is to supply the building blocks necessary for unleashing the untapped creativity of the workforce and to provide the resources for ensuring a vital, resilient corporate DNA..

As the executive imagination knows little bounds when it comes to inventing new job titles,  not surprisingly, there are many others in play. Here are some more: Complexity Coordinator, Innovation Officer, Knowledge Strategist, Resident Futurist, Change Architect, Director of Knowledge Management and Consumer Insights, and Director of Intellectual Asset Management. These are in fact real titles in today’s corporate world.

And what exactly do these people do?  Well, that’s where the rubber hits the road. Properly conceived and designed, these titles can make a difference. This, for example, is what I would like to see in a suggested (top-line) job description for a Chief Innovation Officer:

  • Develop the long-term innovation game plan for the enterprise;
  • Ensure that the key leaders and managers understand the fundamental dynamics of innovation and the resources needed to drive it;
  • Identify the knowledge gaps and deficiencies within the organization (what it thinks it knows but really doesn’t);
  • Develop the mechanisms for gathering the critical external information (such as leading-edge trends) that might impact the business going forward;
  • Establish formal, informal and viral mechanisms for sharing internal and external information across the organization;
  • Ask the right (i.e., smart) questions and translate trends, observations, suggestions, ideas and insights into new or potential opportunities for the business;
  • Develop mechanisms for gaining acceptance of new ideas, efficiencies and best practices in the day-to-day running of the business; and
  • Build and manage new relationships with external partners and stakeholders.

New titles make a great deal of sense  when they are supported by clear job descriptions that define new ways of building organizational strength and generating sustainable value.