Title Inflation

Title Inflation

Ambitious leaders have always had their eye on being promoted into the c-suite. It used to be a finite set of coveted titles that were deliberately given out to those who had the skills and experiences to run the divisions the titles represented. Today, c-suite titles are made up and handed out as a recruiting tactic which has made many of these titles meaningless.

Title inflation is most prevalent inside of sales and marketing organizations. Chief Commercial Officer, Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Brand Officer, Chief Advertising Officer, Chief Investment Officer, Chief Creative Officer, Chief Marketing Officer and so on. As the c-suite expands, the value of the title contracts. There are three reasons this is bad for business and why CEOs should be more conservative when distributing titles:

  1. Impact on Recruiting, Promotions and Culture: Early-stage companies frequently hand out c-suite titles to recruit top talent. As the company grows, and there becomes a need for more experience and tenure in the c-suite, there is no additional room for added titles. This creates challenges when working to bring in new leadership and puts the company at risk of losing strong performers. In addition, when titles are given out without careful consideration, true promotions lose their significance, creating a culture of mediocracy vs. a culture where titles are a representation of excellence.
  2. Employee Disillusionment: When you inflate somebody’s title, you inflate their ego as well. Employees can feel they earned the title and can become disillusioned about their skills and contributions.  This results in hindering personal development and can create friction throughout the organization.
  3. Internal and External Confusion: Titles that are not reflective of the true job scope can leave internal and external parties confused about what the person does and the influence and decision-making power they have. External partners and vendors may think they are working with a key decision-maker and internal employees can be confused on who does what.

In addition to CEOs being more thoughtful about title inflation, candidates also need to think about proper titling for their own benefit and career growth. Sure, it feels great to carry around a c-suite title but if it hasn’t been earned, you are misrepresenting your skills, scope and work. Candidates who take on an inflated title run the risk of entering into their new organization with a skeptical eye on them and hostility before they even start in their new positions.  Candidates need to begin valuing the journey of learning that comes along with career growth vs. over-valuing the title and the perception that they have reached the top.

Title inflation is simply a bad practice that creates ambiguity both internally and externally and puts value on superficial markers of success over genuine accomplishments. It’s time CEOs hold fast on titles as they recruit new talent and candidates start recognizing that titles should be earned, not just given.