The C-Suite is slang for a collection of terms designed to denote a corporation’s most important, senior executives. But lately it has suffered from so much Title-Creep that no one blinks at the massive C-level titles rolling off the assembly line.
If you are in a large corporate environment, you have no voice to rebel, so let me be the voice of the corporate workers who can’t call BS* on this trend.
Just like giving trophies for every kid who plays soccer takes the value away from the kids who actually were the best, this title-creep is making it impossible to determine who is an actual decision maker and and who is just in the way. We can’t all be chiefs, there must be some Indians (forgive me if this analogy is no longer acceptable). CEO used to mean the top guy. And yes, it was almost always a guy. So imagine my shock when one of the nation’s largest corporations announced a slew of regional CEOs. “Hey Sylvia, have you had a chance to meet the new CEO?” To which I uttered a confused reply, “No, should I?”
I know my place and it isn’t to cavort with the CEO – the actual guy at the top – of the Fortune 500 companies for whom my company, Gordon Marketing, distributes insurance products. I work with the President, the Senior VPs, but never the CEO. So how was I suddenly being asked to meet the CEO? Because they had taken the term Regional VP and inflated it into CEO.
But even little kids know that a participation trophy isn’t special. I’ve seen how my 4 kids treat the trophy they won when they were the best and how they push in the corner the trophies that everyone received. As my mom always says, people are the same at 8 or 80, we just get older. Gordon Marketing has over 100 employees and we support tens of thousands of agents around the nation. We are a small company, but in the field of insurance distribution, we are rather large. Employees always ask what their title will be and our stock answer is usually, “What would you like it to be?” Few people take the ball and run with that. Most want to be Senior, National or Vice President of something. Director, Manager and Specialist are also popular. But does it matter?
When everyone gets a trophy, it’s harder – but not impossible – to tell who has the real talent. People who can get things done, may or may not have a title or any authority. A lot of the workhorses are meekly-titled. One of the things I absolutely hated, when I started as a straight commission marketer in a family business, was the agent insistent that he could only speak to my dad (the CEO) and that I was without power and a waste of his time. I know how that felt and how much push-back I got from my dad (the CEO) for not handling the issue. When I hear agents call in to our junior marketers and demand to speak to me or my sister, I cringe for the neutered marketer. I too, get mad, because there is no way I have the time to speak to every agent. Too many of them, too few hours in the day. When I’m mad about Best Buy, I can’t call the president of the corporation. It’s not ego, it’s necessary.
The chain of command is in place in every organization because that is the only way it can function. But the chain should mean something.
When I first was told by someone half my age that I “had” to have a Linkedin account, I went about half-heartedly setting up my account. I titled myself in my usual tongue-in-cheek style. I’m not looking for a job and we don’t hire off of Linkedin, so what would it matter if I put down my title at Gordon Marketing as Supreme Ruler? It gave me a quick laugh and I moved on only to be called into my sisters office years later and sternly told to CHANGE IT! Again, still not valuing the power of Linkedin or Social Media, I changed my title to Former Supreme Ruler. It took only a few weeks this time for her phone to ring (an agent asked if I quit my job?) and for me to agree that maybe people are reading these titles, and they do mean something.
Do titles mean anything when there are hundreds of VPs in every company?
VP means so little now, people only want to deal with a Senior Vice President. I’m ready to bet money that in a very short time a new title will eclipse SVP as the real, heavy-hitter under the President. SSVP ?
Chief Creative Office, Chief Data Officer, Chief Growth Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Investment Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Learning Officer, Chief Visionary Officer and God help me on this last one, Chief People Officer. That’s just a quick predictive search of “Chief” in Google, there are a lot more~
Where does this end? Is some business school to blame? Note to corporations that are perpetuating this title creep: NO ONE IS FOOLED. Nor are we impressed, it’s more frustrating that we are expected to play along. I shall take my leave of this topic, but first I’m anointing myself Chief Blog Officer.