The misplaced obsession with title in Global Business Services
By Deborah Kops
When I was a kid, my father oft quoted this saying from the 1830s. He wasn’t fussed about what anyone called him; he just wanted a seat at the table. It’s an apt aphorism for the fixation on snagging a title that they think suggests career advancement.
Would you really miss out on a career-fulfilling role because it didn’t carry a VP or SVP handle?
Surprisingly, more folk than you might think ask first about the title, just because we’ve been hard-wired to think that we must continually climb a career ladder. A director role must lead to a senior director, a VP to an SVP, no exceptions, in the minds of many. But is self-worth and career progression really tied up in a moniker?
You’d be surprised how many folk turn up their noses at a role that they think the market will view as a lateral, or worse, a demotion.
Why is titular obsession a barrier to a great GBS career?
- Hierarchies vary company to company. Some enterprises hand out senior titles like candy (think banks with a plethora of AVPs, VPs, SVPs, or consultancies with Director, Managing Director, Senior Managing Director, Executive Managing Director…), while others reserve high level titles for the top table, or pretty close to. These are all calibrated across the board and not easily changed.
- GBS roles and titles are set by the enterprise and informed by the market. Not only do companies benchmark level and compensation internally, but it may also benchmark externally when a role comes to market. While many organizations can be more flexible on compensation, especially when they find a candidate they want, titles are usually hard-coded. In any event, enterprises won’t upgrade a title based on a candidate’s authority.
- There’s nothing standard about the role and responsibility behind the title Since we are comfortable saying that no two GBS models are the same, why would we expect the same parity in titles? Here’s an example that underscores the point: one of the world’s largest and most valued companies pegs its global GBS leader as a senior director, yet he has more responsibility and authority (and likely more valuable long-term incentive) than in most organizations
- It’s not the way to make a good first impression. The hiring manager (or his/her talent acquisition team) wants to see energy, problem solving facility, ability to deal with complexity at the first contact. Why squander the opportunity by asking about title out of the gate?
So, you love the GBS role, its scope, prospects and the brand, but can’t get beyond the fact that the title is a lateral—or worse—a seeming demotion.
Here are some tips to get around titular obsession:
- Don’t dismiss the opportunity out of hand. When a job presents itself, make sure that your first reaction isn’t “it’s a lateral for me and will be a career setback,” cutting off the conversation before it even starts. Not only might you miss out on something good, but you will also get a reputation as self-obsessed about the trappings of title rather than someone who’s reason for being in GBS is to have the opportunity to create real value for an organization.
- Explore the specification, understand the scope and the opportunity for career growth
- Determine what gaps the role will fill in your resume.
- Don’t spend time “negotiating” the rank. Most organizations’ role level and compensation benchmarking initiatives are not only fairly complex, reflecting both internal and external mark-to-market initiatives they are usually cut-and-dried by the time a job opening comes to market. It may be possible to get a role upgrade, but certainly not on the candidates’ sole authority. Make the call whether you use whatever negotiating leverage you have on what’s achievable, not fighting internal norms.
The next time someone comes knocking with an opportunity to snare your third senior director or VP role, ask yourself the following questions before griping about the title:
- Is the company an improvement on your current GBS brand? Brand matters in the GBS space. To be frank, being part of a GBS team recognized for its GBS achievements will do more for your resume than being a VP of a small or unknown GBS operation.
- Does the opportunity represent a considerable increase in scale and scope? It shows real career progression when you move from a $3B company with a single function shared services operation to a $20B company with a true multi-functional GBS. Or when you move from operating one center in India to a network of six following the sun.
- Will I pick up new skills? The GBS leader of the future has to have a dichotomy of skills—consensual but decisive, a good leader of both men and bots, fixated on delivery yet obsessed about stakeholder experience. Will a move round out your capabilities?
- Is the hiring manager going to help me advance my career? A good manager who believes that GBS should be the taproot for enterprise talent and cares about your career is worth far more in the long run than a title. Will your boss become a mentor, or better yet, sponsor, to bigger and better things?
Not yet convinced? Here’s another thought. Remember Bacon’s Law—or, for those of you who aren’t film buffs, the idea that all people on average are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other. In GBS World, it’s likely even less than six given industry mobility. Folks remember you. It’s always good to be called on time for dinner.