If you ask most founders of privately held companies, their answer is, ‘titles don’t matter’. In their eyes, everyone simply needs to do what needs to be done to make the company and all of us successful.

If you ask most professional managers, their answer is, ‘of course titles matter’. Titles tell the people in the company who is responsible and accountable for decision making. Titles also tell the outside world, customers and other stakeholders, who is who.

In the early days of entrepreneurial companies, hierarchies don’t exist and therefore titles are fluid and variable. These companies pride themselves on being nimble and quick to respond to marketplace demands. As Vistage companies grow, we Chairs encourage owners to build a leadership team so they can build a sustainable enterprise.

And, owners want experienced leaders to fill these leadership roles – In walks the professional managers mentioned above. These folks are accustomed to structure and ready to create that sustainable enterprise. With their ability to create processes to support a sustainable enterprise, comes their comfort and desire for hierarchy, titles, offices, etc.

Further, as companies grow, leadership needs grow as well. Regardless of what owners call themselves initially, the distinction between the role of the CEO (externally and long term focused) and the role of the President (internally and results focused) become relevant. Sometimes, regardless of company size, the same person can perform both roles and sometimes it becomes clear that the company will benefit if these two roles are split between two leaders.

And when the person the owner called Director or VP of Operations or Sales in the early days, has most of the company reporting to them today or is actually leading the #1 strategic initiative or leading the executive committee meetings, what message are you sending if you don’t change their title?

What does matter? Really..

  • For professional managers
    • Is it time to pause and ask, how much of what I expect in terms of hierarchy, paying dues, etc. matters?
    • What recognition is truly important for me to feel successful in my organization?
    • When joining a new organization or taking on an assignment, what behaviors, rather than titles and trappings, should I be asking for that will set me up to succeed?
  • For owners and founders
    • Is it time to provide role clarity for me and for my leadership team?
    • When is the right time to divide responsibilities and share both the leadership of the company and the associated titles?
    • What recognition do I want to give; when, to whom and for what reason?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

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