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A tale of two titles

September 1, 2016

The owner of an insurance agency I know did an experiment. Sheila VanZile of Watermark Insurance printed business cards with two different titles: President and Queen. Over the course of time, she used both… and Queen won out. That title engaged people, helped start a conversation and gave them a glimpse of her fun personality. Her business is all about building relationships and being able to connect with customers to identify needs. She said those who were not amused at the title of Queen were actually not people she wanted as clients.

If you had asked me for my opinion on titles a number of years ago you would have gotten a different answer than today. In the past, I would have said that I didn’t care much for titles and some of the most important people I know don’t even use them. But today, I have a different perspective. After working with companies large and small I have found that doing business is a lot easier when you have a frame of reference about the person. That’s why titles and job descriptions are very important. They tell people about your level of responsibility and in some cases, like my friend with the insurance agency, your personality.

Titles are a way to distinguish those who have decision making power from those who do not. Those who are leaders and those who follow. Those who are important to pay attention to and… well you get the idea. But titles are tricky. Corporations have a lot of titles. There is the CEO, COO and the CFO- not to mention lots of VPs. Go to most banks and it seems like everyone is a vice president. At least that is what their card says. That’s because banks and other institutions give out titles freely. It makes the customer feel good that they are working with a vice president.

Small businesses have traditionally been anti-title. Many of the small business owners I know don’t refer to themselves at the CEO or President. They prefer to be called the owner or founder. Because most small business owners are providing direct service they shy away from C-Suite titles. And, here is an important point. Small business owners actually have more flexibility when it comes to titles. So does a title really matter and what should you consider when picking titles for positions within your company? Here are a few things.

Is the title one that will immediately tell people what the individual does?

What kind of an impression do you want to make? Casual, fun, impressive?

Is it accurate and honest? Don’t use a title that conveys authority if the position is not a decision-making one.

Is the title one that is appropriate for your industry? For the department or area that the individual oversees?

Choosing titles can be confusing but choose wisely because it really does matter. It’s defining your brand with your title and your personality and matching them appropriately. One great resource is the Society for Human Resource Management. They have tools for both members and readers including a list of titles and descriptions. Check out any industry groups or associations where you have membership. Finally, test out the titles with a few trusted individuals. Who knows, maybe you could be the Queen (or King) too.

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