Ambiguous Titles In An Unambiguous Business

Do you work in a function that many of your colleagues, clients and business partners ask “Precisely, what does [fill in your function] do?”

I am reminded as much by separate but related conversations. “Strategic Advisory” functions in reinsurance brokers, who offer mostly tactical not strategic advice. “Operating Partners” in private equity firms, who are not seen as or rarely act as  “partners” in the traditional sense of the word. “Client Advisory” in a global art business, who are largely low-paid implementers, not seen as a peer of the client, and rarely provide advice.  The function’s title is a “catch all” sobriquet for a range of activities, which might differ by products/service offered, markets served, client groups and so on.

The only way to make any sense of these functional titles is to ask “Tell me in one or two sentences, how are your clients better off or personally better supported by your work?” Lo and behold, most people enter into a preamble about the multitude of tasks and activities they undertake, in the belief that the listener will be exponentially wiser. I point this out because it gets to the heart of why so many businesses in finance, insurance and professional services have become masters at making the simple complex from the moment they hand you a business card and rarely articulate their value impressively.

My observation is that in future we will see a dramatic increase in functional titles descriptive of the specific value and results that the client receives, not the activity performed or the empty sobriquet. The alternative is we see an increasing reversion to core functional titles (Marketing, Sales, Delivery, Operations etc.).

There is one obvious proviso. Individual titles within these functions that are for grandeur rather than impact will be scorned or treated with increasing cynicism. We are awash with “Chiefs” in many businesses (Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Customer Experience Officer, Chief Risk Officer), yet few in reality participate at the top table in setting the firm’s strategy. They collect the kindling for the wood fire but they do not get to choose the menu for the night’s dinner or decide how rare or well done the steaks shall be cooked.

Now let’s get back to the hard work of improving our client’s well-being.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

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