The Danger Of Startup Titles

by Robert Morris


Professional titles are always tricky when companies are hiring new employees, but the situation is even more complex in a startup environment. When you take away the pretentious titles such as “entrepreneur” (you cannot be one until you advance your business experience with significant personal risk), “CEO” (which you are not until you become responsible for shareholders and employees in a company), and “founder” (which you can’t be until you create an actual business); you are left with banal, mediocre titles that create two types of troubles: privileges and expectations.


Startup Titles Give Privileges

If you want to adjust a startup title downward, you have a big mission in front of you, because the title is directly tied to a role, which is variable. A mismatch can create a real mess in a growing organization. The early employees in a company are usually small team leaders or developers, which is exactly what the initial hiring decisions should be based on. As the company develops, you will most probably need employees with senior VP executive project management skills, such as strategic vision and process experience, as well as management of larger teams.


The case of an early developer growing into a larger role is not excluded, but a sharp rise is not recommended. At this point, you may find yourself in a dead end because downgrading a title will lead to displeasure and a possible loss of an important developer. You may think that the best solution is to ignore the problem, but that will probably lead the company’s leadership towards a disaster.



Titles mean prospects and expectations

When you hire your employees, they start with a vision of the role you give them to fulfill. It will be a while for the vision to progress into an actual title and job description. The title you give to your employee will inspire them to achieve certain results, so its importance is obvious: it is the point of connection between the employer’s expectations and the employee’s understanding of the job position.


Most new management hires are associated to the creation of a department evolving around the specific title, even if the company doesn’t need such department. As an example, if you hire an employee with title Vice President of Operations, you immediately associate that title to Operations, which may or may not be a major aspect of your company at that point. Most startup VPs of Operations actually do jobs similar to IT Support employees or Office Admins.


Many new companies make the mistake of assigning a title to a functional area and thinking that the situation is solved. If you hire a Vice President of Marketing, that doesn’t mean that all business stuff is solved, unless the skills of your employee match up to the title and role’s requirements. If an experienced marketing strategist is what your company needs, then that’s who you need to hire… and call him a Vice President. You can’t make a VP out of your first sales guy if he is not up to the expectations of such position.



The solutions

Pretty much all startup companies do the same mistakes at one point or another during their development. What makes these title-associated issues so difficult to avoid? One of the reasons is that all involved employees are usually strong performers in new companies. It is very difficult to recognize that a strong performer is matched with the wrong title or a role that isn’t necessary at the current level of capacity of your company.


How can the problem be solved? The first recommendation is to set titles that describe the activities of your employees instead of their experience and capacity. You don’t have to call the co-founders and first few hires CxO or VP. As an example, use the title Code Developer (or Senior Code Developer) instead of Vice President of Engineering. Another useful advice is to focus on separate roles that make individual contributions through personal skills or efforts instead roles responsible for leveraging the activities of other employers.


The most important thing to remember is that these challenges should be faced as early as possible during the company’s development, because the problems get more serious over time



Robert Morris is essay specialist at Ninja Essays, leader in dissertation and essay writing. He was an English teacher for more than 5 years and he owned a tutoring company for three years. Robert discovered methods that help students to highlight their academic strengths. Passionate about EdTech. You can find Robert on Google+ and Twitter!


Photo Credits

jannoon028 | samuiblue | | Courtesy of Author

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