The tyranny of titles

Overblown business titles are more than annoying, especially if the ‘titled’ one can’t deliver. PAUL WALLBANK

Paul Wallbank Tech Talk blog

By Paul Wallbank

One of the things the internet will never replace is the joy of wandering around a trade show chatting to exhibitors and finding out who’s doing what.

While doing this at a conference last week, it occurred me all the staff on one organisation’s stand had the title “business development manager”. Except for one who had the badge of state sales manager – I assume she was the boss.

Since high school days when I worked as a casual in a department store I’ve enjoyed overblown job titles.

That particular store that had a practice of promoting sales assistants to section managers. The promotion usually meant doing the same job without penalty rates, which in turn meant being always rostered on for Thursday nights and weekends.

The only perk for these overworked souls was being able to bully spotty casuals like me.

These days, spotty casuals are on a much better wicket as they get the title “consultant” to make up for their lack of holiday pay and sick leave.

In the IT industry we particularly love titles. As well as armies of 17-year-old “business development managers” and “consultants” selling anti virus software at the local computer shop, we bestow the position of “engineer” on anyone who can plug a mouse into computer correctly three times out of five.

My favourite is a CEO at a certain web 2.0 business who has awarded himself the same grand title he had when running a web 1.0 organisation into the ground in the last tech wreck. The only difference this time seems to the extra digit in his salary and a better taste in suits.

Whether this bestowing of titles actually improves anything apart from cutting the overtime bill is another question. In my view, the more overblown the job titles, the less effective the organisation.

It’s usually a case of too many chiefs and not enough indians to do the hard work most organisations need to succeed.

A good example was the booth stuffed with business development managers. All of them believed it was below their dignity to scan the attendee’s name tags. My guess is no-one entered the business card information they’d gathered through the lucky dip either.

But at least the business development managers had some knowledge of their organisation and products – a bigger bugbear I have at exhibitions are those stands manned (if that’s the word) with lycra clad models.

Quite frankly I don’t go to trade shows to look at eye candy. The whole point of going to these events is to talk to informed people about their products. I can download brochures and gawk at pretty people any time on my computer.

The cardinal trade show sin for me though is unattended stands. I will never understand why businesses spend thousands of dollars and hours of time setting up kiosks only to leave them empty with a perhaps a lonely stand of brochures.

Just one final rant. When working on a stand don’t answer your phone in the middle of a spiel to a potential customer.

If your gran is on her deathbed, your wife about to give birth or your girlfriend needs bail posted, then you have more pressing needs than hanging around a kiosk at a trade show. There’s probably 10 other business development managers who can fill in for you anyway.

Business development managers have a serious role in an organisation, but you don’t need 10 of them to change a light bulb or staff a stand at a trade show. Spending a bit more time on getting the right people doing the right job without overblown titles is a far better way to run a business.


Paul Wallbank is Australia’s most heard computer commentator with his regular computer advice spots on ABC Radio. He’s written five computer books and just finished the latest Australian adaptation of Internet for Dummies. Paul founded and built up a national IT support company, PC Rescue and has a free help website at IT Queries. Today he spends most of his time consulting and advising community and business groups on getting the most from their technology.

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