Corporate Makeover: Let's Do Away With Titles

Last Updated Jun 6, 2008 9:47 AM EDT

Corporate Makeover: Let's Do Away With TitlesIn the 20th century hierarchical business organization, titles serve two purposes. For employees, a name tag with Vice President on it marks your ascension through the ranks. The second service titles provide is to tell fellow workers and customers who has power to make things happen.

Question: Are titles still relevant as we start to reinvent the organization in the 21st century?

Tammy Erickson believes titles have developed too much corporate baggage and its time to switch to a different system.

Writing on Harvard Online, Erickson says workers in the modern org want new challenges, not new titles; they want to be able to move laterally or even backwards to where the most interesting work is, not necessarily upward and onward toward the C-suite.

"I suggest we define names for tasks, but recognize that individuals will move from task to task, without carrying an organizational title on their backs," Erickson writes.

This couples with an earlier idea she put forward that we define jobs and compensation by what we do, not how many hours we put in.

Read her post for an interesting view of the 21st century corporation, which she believes is changing shape from a hierarchical triangle to a collaboration-enhancing rectangle.

Have titles lost their meaning? Should they be more function based (software evangelist) than military rank? What do you think?

(Sandwich Artists image by Francis Storr, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.