HR Strange But True!
May 31, 2007

Has the word "chief" in job titles lost its cachet? The Wharton School's online business journal recently discussed the proliferation of chief reputation officers, chief apology officers, chief geeks, and other "chief you-name-it officers" and whether it has taken away some of the prestige of C-level job titles.

Betsey Stevenson, a professor at the Wharton School , tells Knowledge@Wharton that inflation in job titles is a reflection of many companies having fewer rungs to climb on the corporate ladder.

"[Job title inflation] seems to go hand in hand with the flattening of the organization," Stevenson says. "People want to be distinguished in some way from everyone else, but in a flat organization there is less hierarchy and therefore less opportunity to be distinguished. One good thing about hierarchy is you can climb a corporate ladder. If there is no ladder, there is nothing to climb."

Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, tells the publication that companies invent new job titles for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Creating a prestigious-sounding job title rewards employees without the expense of giving a raise.
  • Offering a potential employee the job title he or she wants as a recruiting tool and incentive to sign on with the company.

Wharton professor Sarah Kaplan says companies also create the titles to stress the importance of an area to the organization. A chief ethics officer, for example, would signal the importance of conducting business in an ethical way in a post-Enron environment.

"So you have a chief diversity officer because the company realizes that diversity is an important initiative," Kaplan tells the publication. "And the way to signal that is to create a C-level job to implement it. It might also be signaling that the job is more than just an operational one, that there is something about it that is strategic."

Kaplan notes that soon enough, everyone will be "strategic" and companies will have to find another term with more cachet.

Source: Knowledge@Wharton

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