What’s in a name? Myths and reality of a designation

We live for our work. We identify with what we do, to an extent, that we get tagged with the official designations. A visiting card remoulds into a flag, which gains weight with each promotion. We may not consciously ponder on these things. Professionally, our credibility gets highlighted by these definitions. Our designation and the company we work for, emerges as an integral part of our personal brand. Perfunctorily, this may not pose any dissonance. It rather helps to measure growth and development. The problem in this haven begins when the rules of the game change. It can be triggered environmentally, organizationally and at times due to a personal necessitate. This is the point where we brainstorm a solution, to seek a redemption of our professional efforts. Here we discuss a case from CiteHR. It may not be unique, rather it might be happening regularly, with many around us. This case is presented as shared by our member.

I have recently joined a software company as an HR Executive. Previously, I worked with a marketing company as Trainee HR Manager for two years. My current employer, X, is an associate to the main company.  My work requires me to interact with few employees working at the Parent firm. Incidentally they are into management roles. I bumped upon information, according to which, my designation had been kept under the wraps. Furthermore, this cryptic action was triggered by my boss at the associate firm.The dissonance deepens further, with the documents issued to me stating, my designation as an HR Executive.

Recently, during the CEO’s visit to our branch, He was introduced to every employee with their designations and roles.  When he has asked about the deliveries of each employee, my manager did not clarify or even mention anything about HR. I am really confused, with what’s going on. This should not become a trouble for me later, when I may try to switch the company. Please suggest some solution, so that this ambiguity does not hamper my career.

Let’s look into the case facts as stated:

  • An employee is hired by an associate firm.
  • Documents are issued stating a designation.
  • The role stands with KRA in an alignment with the designation.
  • The parent firm is assumed to be unaware of the role
  • The employee works in ambiguity

We look into each area in order to figure out solutions

  • Bird’s eye view: Every firm calculates the employee strength as per the budget and business requirement. The bill-ability is decided entirely on the ROI or the expected revenue generation from the talent. Organogram is designed including the roles assigned with the decision making in an alignment to the capabilities for delivery. Divisions are drawn with a top down view. Each division is then branched into roles and levels. The processes are initially drawn to meet the current needs of the business. As the business evolves, it requires to be reviewed, creating newer roles.
  • Worm’s view: The dissonance begins, when the executive level team, who designs the firm’s organogram is not in touch with the operations or the delivery team that may have a better view of the areas of delivery. This fissure would further deepen, when the organization grows, requiring newer functions, without creating those roles. For e.g.:  When a firm grows from small to large, its CEO may no longer sign a cheque for a vendor. He or she may decide on the overall budget, to be allocated for each service. Sometimes this may even be a level higher, with budget allocation to each department. The decisions may further be taken by each divisional head, who may have a precise view of the requirement of each process, coupled with information of the competitive rates from each vendor. The finance or the accounts team, who is in command of cash and payments, may have the authority to sign a cheque for the vendor. Now if the firm had a flat structure initially and continues to maintain that, it may club the deliveries under common heads, without acknowledging the roles. Subsequently, this executive who signs the cheque may get designated as Executive or Finance Executive rather than a Purchase and Vendor Management Executive.

A way out of this maze for employers

If an organization structure had been drawn with a top-down vision, it needs to be coupled with a bottom-up review.

  • Focus on the deliveries. Every job has a starting and the ending point. Identify the level required in terms of proficiency and decision making.
  • Club activities under different heads to be defined as a role at a later point of time. Let the point of reference be, the set of tasks to be delivered.
  • Identify the industry definition of these clubs made of each set. Align the new structure to the existing pattern to suit the business requirement. Identify the new found roles under the bands as defined by the organization. A role may have two designations, for the internal alignment and external reference. Suppose a role is named as Human Resource Consultant. This role would entail a set of deliveries, including all the tasks of HR Generalist. The span of this role would depend on the business unit to which it is associated. Externally, such roles may be referred to as Human Resource Manager. The size of the business unit would create levels such as Assistant HR manager, Deputy HR Manager and HR Manager. The flat organization structure may band it internally, hence continue to refer to them as HR Consultants. At the most, these may have bands and levels such as junior and senior to create compensation variants and a growth path.

Employee’s key

If an employee finds themselves in a structure, with a certain degree of ambiguity in the role, there are few pre-emptive measures, which can ensure the continuity in the talent’s growth.

  • Focus on understanding the role. Each task will be defined universally,though the clubbing may stand unique.
  • Industry fitment can be better identified with each set of deliveries that are clubbed, as per the firm’s business requirement. Career progression is better managed when the internal and external reference to the role becomes visibly tacit. For eg:  An employee in a product development firm will research on the product while working on it. This employee would be designated as a Developer. Whereas an employee in a Consulting firm delivering similar research essentially, would be designated as a Research Associate. The dimensions of the research may vary, though the critical ingredients, such as know how in integrating technologies etc would remain the same.  Let us further suppose that the developer applies for a job, in the consulting firm to work as a Research Associate. During the hiring round, parallels would be drawn, to match the proficiency and applicability of the skills towards the technology, in which the developer had been working so far. It would be a natural progression for the Developer to move from one role to another, in the ‘talent value-chain’.  At this juncture, the firm’s business requirement and reference for talent’s expertise, requires to be kept in mind. A Senior Developer may get hired as a Junior Research Associate depending on the experience required to work as a Research Associate.
  • In this case, as shared by our member, the designation has already been declared on paper. It clearly states the external reference. This would be essential when planning an inorganic growth, i.e., with other employers.
  • Internally, as referred by our member, the employer does not refer or acknowledge the existence of an HR role. Even though, the set of tasks to be delivered exists. Hence the proficiency gained from delivering these tasks is the first take away from this role.
  • Let us suppose a worst case scenario, where the senior management ignores or rejects the existence of an HR when exposed. The employee may stand to lose the ground in terms of role reference. What still remains unchanged, are the set of tasks and deliveries. An employee, who partners the business with other employee’s growth by championing areas, including strategic, statutory and operational activities such as processing the appraisal etc. automatically works as an HR.
  • There can be several over-shadowing of responsibilities. For instance, if employee engagement is strewn with the practice managers, a representation by the employee, here in question, to facilitate the process, evolves as a custodian to this strategic initiative. It will then require, our member, to strengthen the HR maturity in order to generate value and contribute beyond the practice manager’s input. The talent acumen is the corner stone to HR. Building on this astuteness with process expertise will establish our member in the long run.
  • Consequently, our member’s internal learning needs to be managed through every opportunity in the delivery.   This should progress into the next level by aiming to be trusted with more responsibility. This would build the intelligence required for the next level roles and decision making capabilities. As this framework for the proficiency increases, it would fuel the organic and inorganic growth of the employee.
  • In due course, the set of activities which are managed by our member, when drawn parallel to in the industry would suffice the external designation. Next role would depend on the experience gained as the hiring process would follow the fitment exercise, as shared in the Developer-Research Associate example.

The growth of the talent is best measured with the understanding, and maturity gained. Professional excellence is the ultimate reward. The designation or the name is the part of the whole. Please share your views and solutions to this case. We look forward to hear, how you would have resolved the case if you were in a similar situation.

  • Kranthi

    In my view responsibilities should be preferred more later comes your designation, If you observe few firms , Even for entry level positions they name it as manager, Where the responsibilities would be low when compared.

    Good responsibilities always takes an individual to a good designation.

    Good article Nabomita.

  • Thank you Kranthi, You made my day ! I second you. The learning is gained fundamentally through the responsibilities managed. Proficiency and excellence results from managing adversity. Designation is a representation and does not certify the learning.

  • Surresh31

    The Responsibilities does matter a lot, The Designation……it is just a temporary tag on the peope…..
    Very Good Article Nabomita….

  • Thankyou Suresh, You made my day ! I agree, we cannot change the organization structures until , and, unless we are the business owners. As an employee to such an organization, it helps to stay focussed on the responsibilities and create take-aways. Even in organized sectors, designations are defined in myriad ways. Working with a big picture view would remain productive.

  • Cyrilsunil

    nice article. Although agree responsibility does matter a lot, however as you grow up the value chain in or outside the organisation, designation which actually takes the place. Even during recruitment past experience and position held is taken into account and emphaised on the Designation and role not responsibility. For entry level its fine…….


    Appreciations for touching some real business. The author has the nerve to understand and jotting down few realities in HR function.

    (The following lines would slightly touch few other points also, including designation….please bear with me, Friend)

    You may agree (or not) – Say for example a potential candidate is attending one interview. All the questions like:

    1.Why you want to change…………….?
    2.Why you would change so frequently……?
    3.What made you to apply for this position…?

    ……were asked and you (HR) might probably expect some answer. But whatever answer is given by the candidate….HR as a rule would not be ready to purchase it, for some reason.

    After all this the question of designation – our topic. Let me convey to you my friend…..how much time is spent on discussing Designation of a candidate…?

    Whereas the candidate in question will have much stakes with regard to designation and the related things that follow it…….! This is to communicate in these lines, hence, it would be more appropriate that sufficient time is spent in discussing designation-matters.


  • Samina

    Nice one… Sometimes job responsibilities /JD are differing then the job Role or designation. Me b It happens in small firms like in lower positions.