Our Obsession With Titles

We can’t help ourselves. We have a love affair with titles. Director at Large, President & CEO, the Marketing Manager… we’re obsessed! It’s as if we somehow put so much importance on letters formed together and string them along our names… Jane Doe, MBA. And the more letters, by all means, the better! You only have a bachelors degree? Yikes! Maybe one day you’ll be more prestigious. A liberal arts degree, well that’s just not as useful to the world as the bachelor of science.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in recognizing hard work. The admin who has worked tirelessly for years to obtain the CEO status, she’s well-deserved of her role. The doctor who put in thousands of dollars and hours of study, hat is off to you. It’s a cause and effect world, sowing and reaping exists and therefore those who put in more should rightfully get more out of it. This can be demonstrated in the military very well. You don’t move up the ranks by not putting in effort and taking on a lot of responsibility. You don’t become Commodore of your ship overnight. There is a reason why there are titles and they help us distinguish where we all fit and maintains order.

On the flip side, there are those that don’t deserve their titles. I think the military is the easiest place for us to accept them because we realize they are earned and there is sacrifice involved in good leadership. There’s no greater degree of sacrifice than in the military. But it’s harder for us to accept the Executive’s position because I think to some degree, we don’t trust the white color corporate world the same way. And how many times has it been seen that the “Executive Admin” aka glorified secretary, did more of the role than the President or CEO? I’m not saying that it’s always that way, but many times titles get sticky and those who really perform more of the job functions many times are not properly recognized.

The problem becomes further created when we become obsessed with them, when they provide identity. Suddenly I don’t feel important without the alphabet after my name. And I think this is a problem because it perpetuates this idea, this theme that I grapple with, of finding our value as people in what we do rather than in who we are. Because what happens when you lose that job, and you aren’t the CEO or the Director of Selection? What happens when a disability makes it impossible for you to perform at the level you used to? Or your department gets out-sourced? What do we do, and who are we when the titles are gone?

I think it’s safe to say that there’s a difference between working hard and trying to be our best to serve others versus working hard to prove something. I can say that because I’ve done that–and it just leads to burn out. It’s an insecure way of being that leaks into our professional world and causes us to seek advancement and title for the wrong reasons. Bettering ourselves, there’s nothing wrong with that. Learning more and serving a wider range of clients, that’s what we should be doing. But it can never be for the reason of self-identity and that’s what this title-crazed culture has become. We should seek to serve and do our best, the titles will just be a symptom and by-product of our service.

Menial Help, Menial Pay

I think one of the most important work issues and probably one of the least understood, is regarding how team members are paid. This problem of how to pay and what to pay seems to really bother both employers and team members alike. There are so many facets to it: how much can the employer afford, what are the skills worth, how long has the person been on your team, etc. But paying properly can really make or break a team–and a business.

When I thought about it more carefully, I considered, does it really matter that much? If your needs are met and you enjoy your job, then what does the pay really matter? Of course, most people want to earn as much as they can for various reasons, mostly quality of life, and I completely understand and can relate. But I wondered if there was even a deeper reason why we want to be paid well.

I heard it once said by Dave Ramsey, and it’s well-put, “Paying people what they are worth is a sign of respect”. Wow. When I heard that statement, it really hit home to me. It’s not all about the items we can acquire, it’s not about the titles–it’s respect. And part of respecting your team, means paying your team what they are worth.

It’s not about asking for something unrealistic if you have low skills. Low skills equal low pay grades. The Wendy’s worker should not be paid the same for those skills as the digital marketer. It’s not that the Wendy’s worker couldn’t one day learn those skills, but at Wendy’s they are only valuable as the hamburger preparer. Therefore, there shouldn’t be so much pushback in why they are paid accordingly, because their value in the marketplace is just not equivalent to the digital marketer. The more you learn, the more value you add to yourself, the more you rightfully should be paid. Now whether the employer you’re with is willing and/or able to do that, is another matter entirely.

If you are not paying properly, eventually, your team will leave. People need motivation. There are some ways you can do that on your team, but a big and obvious way is by paying properly and having incentive programs. I worked on a team once that did this well. There was a clear path to raises and bonuses, and seeing that, to know it was coming, was very motivating. I’ve also had the opposite be true. I’ve had employers that myself or my friends worked for who thought they were “saving” money by cutting back for their team. Big mistake. Without your team, you are nothing. They are your most valuable resource and to keep a good team, you must respect them enough to pay them what they are worth and to create opportunity for growth via incentives. If I see nothing to work for, no bonus for helping the company, I’m less inclined to produce for them. “Saving” money on your team–doesn’t work and isn’t an investment.

Conclusively, build your team. Create a clear path to grow and realize that they are an investment in your company. Without that sign of respect in their pay, they may leave–and they should.

The Value of the Follow-Up

Probably the most valuable letters I say in an email at my first job… F/U.

Yup–follow-up. And that’s what we did. That was my job for the first three years post college. It was to follow-up. But it’s more than that, it’s actually two letters that define customer service.

But think about it–it’s the most undervalued part of customer service, the most forgotten and yet, the most valuable. No client, customer, patient, wants to be forgotten. It makes you feel like you spent money on a service or good, and no one cared how it went. For example, you order a dinner at a fancy restaurant. I don’t know about you, but I want my server to follow-up on how my food was, to see if I need anything, etc. I will actually spend MORE money, if I have an attentive server. The same goes for using a wedding planner, photographer, graphic designer… I want to know that the business I’m using is paying attention.

I find that when a business doesn’t follow up with me, I get annoyed…downright cranky. I feel like they took my money but don’t value me or my time. That’s what made my first boss so good at his job. It’s not natural talents, abilities, or superhuman powers that he possessed, but just being really good at customer service and doing it over… and over…and over again. That’s what makes such a great entrepreneur, a business owner. Because, at the end of the day, if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. And if you can’t perform 110% in serving customers, then you will not thrive in business.

So follow-up, touch base, and be on the offense with customers not the defense. You should be in front of them and anticipating their needs before they have them. Think of yourself as the server in the restaurant, expecting the next need, the next round of drinks, the coffee and dessert. Those are the best servers who get the best tips because they provide the best service, and that exemplifies good business.



Photo credit: http://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=8c9u5Rst&id=18C9C56415621EE9ED37647FA786400B18D4B05E&q=waitress&simid=607997474434450206&selectedIndex=47&ajaxhist=0

To the Young Writer…

Your words, your writing, it’s important. For many, writing is just a transaction, you write to communicate, to engage; but it’s so much more than that. Think of the sacred texts, the Bible, the Torah etc. Words that still have impacts on people years after they were written. Think of the hieroglyphics written by ancient Egyptians thousands of years ago, words that have stood the test of time. The human condition longs to not only communicate but to also be understood, to leave a mark, to have an impact on planet Earth.

I struggled for a while, to see the importance of being a writer. You know when that’s you, when you’ve been journaling and reading, even as a kid; it’s just an itch that you have to scratch. But a lot of times, society and in our own minds, we downplay the importance of our work, like since we aren’t landing on the moon or curing cancer, than we aren’t all that “impactful”. But listen to what I realized, while driving to work one peaceful winter morning.

The written word  has the ability to evoke change into a life, to reach through and pierce the human soul.

Your  words can create life.  A speech can move a country toward peace or can conjure up war. It can move people to come together and forgive, or to divide. They aren’t meaningless but powerful weapons. I think of Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Dream” speech and contrast with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. I think of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Books, speeches that created history, that were pivotal to our current condition.

Being able to convince, persuade, allure or inspire another human being, is a gift. It’s not something that a word processor can “spit out”, it’s a God-given talent. So hone that gift if it’s yours, because it’s important.