The Collaborator: How we created informal job titles

Here at Just Digital we created a new Happy Melly experiment. We are an IT company that works with data management. We have grown from ten to 50 people in just the last couple of years, and, through it all, we’ve tried to keep the organization within an organic model. As the company has grown, some problems have surfaced. Our biggest challenges this year has been with job titles. Three major problems surfaced:

  1. Some collaborators have a clear goal in their minds, (ie, being a great developer) but at the same time they had problems creating a good plan on how to get there.
  2. Other more senior team members feel that they’ve learned enough from software development and expressed that they felt they should became a “Manager” or an “Architect,” based on big company paradigm of the “Career Plan Hierarchy Model.” We don’t agree to creating a hierarchy out of nowhere and we don’t want traditional management.
  3. The last problem we faced: some developers wanted to leave the development role, but for different reasons–they were not seeing opportunities to learn. They had their eyes on that invisible career ladder because market dictates that the Product Owner and Scrum Master roles pays better compensation. Our opinion here was clear: we don’t agree with horrible concept from past “Project Management.”

What now?

After a quick read on Management 3.0 #Workouts on Work Profiles and Salary Formula we got a lot of insights.

Redefining purpose of job titles

Our first step was to explain to collaborators that job titles and salaries are not the same thing. It is not imperative that a Scrum Master have more capacity to get better compensation plans that a Developer. More than a role, what dictates the collaborator’s salary is his reputation among his peers. Who gets better salaries in the company are known as the collaborators.

A collaborator can be trusted in a diversity of roles, to solve problems, to help peers, to innovate, to run experiments, to share knowledge and not to limit herself to her own job title or job role.

We explained this in a company-wide meeting.

‘Create Your Own Role’ workshops

redefine-job-titles

The second and more important action was to create a small workshop, entitled: “Create your own role,” where any collaborator with her peers’ help can create her own informal job title. The workshop, in fact, was quite simple:

We split the audience in small groups of four to six participants.

Every participant grabs a page with two big images of the “Toyota T Model” with a title as “Past” and “Present/Future.”

Download front side of Informal Job Titles worksheet

The participant writes in the image “Past” some skills in the corresponding spaces:

  1. Write your career skills. What are you specialized in? What do you like spending time doing?
  2. What have you studied or tried in the past but didn’t dig deep because you didn’t like it?

After that, the participant writes in the image “Present/Future” in the corresponding spaces:

  1. What you’ve been studying inside the company, something that you like and is pretty sure that you’ll keep learning for a while?
  2. What you’ve been studying but you’re pretty sure that you’re not going to apply into your work?

After completing both images the participant is invited to share with the team, by way of storytelling his career to his team.

Now the real fun begins: every person of the team passes his sheet to the peer on the right and turns the page. Now the participant will hold a sheet from a colleague he will observe the skill page and suggest a new two to four-word job role or job title, writing down each word in 1 post-it, also some small restrictions apply:

Download back side of Informal Job Title worksheet

  • Use between two to four words, putting each word on a different PostIt.
  • Be creative as possible and have fun.
  • The most important is what she is going to specialize in, but is a good practice to see the whole picture.
  • Do not try to limit to a sub-speciality. Avoid terms like:
    • Frontend, Backend
    • Scrum
  • Do not try to use a level definition. Avoid terms like
    • Junior, Senior
    • Manager, Head, Master, Chief, Boss

When the current participant finishes suggesting a job title, he passes the sheet back to his left with its new suggestions for the sheet owner. When this happens the owner can post two to four words for himself. The final result is four to eight job role suggestions, all of them broken down into single PostIts.

Now the sheet owner chooses his own job title. He is free to grab a suggested role or create his own using any combination of words, while keeping it between two and four words.

redefine-job-titles-2

From our own experience we got surprisingly fun results that turned to be individual informal job titles, including:

  • Solutions Janitor
    • One of the most engaged collaborators in helping other people in the company, his position is most like an IT servant leader architect.
  • Agile Product Craftsman
    • He owned a craftsman business in the past and he is one of the best Product Owners in our company.
  • Spiritual Bard Lead Developer
    • A good developer that plays guitar and, yes, he raise our spirit.
  • Evangelist Culture Officer
    • An Agile Coach with a goal to evangelize agile culture in the company.
  • Giant Pattern Developer
    • A developer who loves code patterns, and while he is physically short, he helps big in a lot of situations.
  • Agile Organizational Samurai
    • This is me. I’m Japanese and focused on organizational issues and structure.

At the end we tell all participants to use this role as part of their personal brand, changing their company signatures and adding side by side to the formal job titles on LinkedIn. We’re not trying to hide them from headhunters, so we accept they have their more formal job titles, while we celebrate their informal collaborated titles too.

The feedback that we received from our collaborators was amazing. They understood that job titles and salaries are separate issues. With their new informal roles, they feel treated more like human beings and not just cogs in a machine. At the same time they have a clearer, broader view of each of their own skills and are more empowered to plan the set of actions they need to work to enhance their experience, learning opportunities and contribution to the JustDigital and our team.

There’s no doubt that job titles can be controversial. Has your company done anything to redefine job titles and turn it into something positive? Did it work or just flop? Share your experiences and experiments with use below!

 

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Comments

5 Responses to “The Collaborator: How we created informal job titles”

  1. 1) OK, very good
    2) this link is a joke : http://winapp2.com/title.html

    Comment by Roberto Bera on November 21, 2015 at 10:08 PM

  2. haha thats great! Thanks for sharing Roberto. “Beta Immersion Secretary” was what I got

    Comment by Vanessa on February 9, 2016 at 9:56 PM

  3. Great idea! Are those job titles also used for external purposes? business cards, email signatures etc?

    Comment by Deborah Katz on February 22, 2016 at 2:15 PM

  4. Hi @disqus_MZqtsylPU4:disqus,
    Yes, this is used in email signatures and if someone is presenting a speech in a conference they also use their informal job titles.
    We didn’t put into business cards as we still have a lot of the older ones left and we don’t use business cards that much nowadays. Another situation that we are “forced” to use our traditional titles is when the general more traditional media comes to interview our company, one of them specifically want a traditional job title “in clear portuguese language” to present in their show for a broader audience.

    Comment by Thomas Kuryura on February 22, 2016 at 5:32 PM

  5. Great, thanks for the push for us to be more creative with job titles. We’re a small start-up, so we should start as we mean to go on 🙂

    Comment by Tom Hussey on August 8, 2016 at 12:23 PM

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