What’s in a Title? Creative Process for Selecting Motivating Job Titles

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 15, 2016

I remember hearing a story many years ago about a receptionist who simply did her job.  Came in at 9am, when home at 5pm. Did what she was asked, and not a whole lot more.  Smiled at people she liked and tolerated others.  Then, after some discussion about her purpose at the company, she realized she was the first point of contact.

And so by mutual agreement between the receptionist and management, they changed her job title to “Director of First Impresssions” and charged her with making every visitor (and in fact, every person) who walked through the door of the office feel warm and welcome.  After all, she was responsible for their first (and continued) impression of the company!

Before long, you could see an amazing transformation.  In the office, she bought some plants, rearranged the furniture, and asked for the walls to be painted a brighter, more inviting color.  And her personal transformation was remarkable.  She started smiling more, dressed more professionally and seemed to care more about the actual people walking through the door.  (BTW, through the power of Google, I discovered this story is often attributed to Chris Young, founder of The Rainmaker Group in Bismark, N.D., an employee relations company as far back as 2006.)

I figured, there must be something to this idea…especially since I have remembered this story for YEARS.

Then a recent Harvard Business Review article shows up on my radar screen.  “It would be easy to dismiss retitling as a silly exercise in euphemisms. But over the past decade, London Business School professor Dan Cable has come to view it as a legitimate tool for improving workers’ attitudes and boosting recruitment.”  He and two other researchers did a rather interesting study with Make-a-Wish and concluded: “Rather than viewing titles solely as sources and reflections of formality and rigidity or mechanisms of bureaucratic control, our research suggests that titles can be vehicles for agency, creativity, and coping.”

Sign me up for that!  Okay, here’s how he (and I…it’s actually a hybrid) suggest you come up with your own method:

  1. Do a fair dose of reflection:
    • What is the purpose of your job?  For example, what do you do, who is served, who is affected by the quality of the work, and what value is created when you do your job well?
    • What do you, personally, do particularly well or differently from other employees or even the competition?
    • What would make your “customer” (the recipient of you doing an awesome job) get all jiggly, happy, excited and delighted – and HAVE to tell their friends, family and anyone within an earshot away about the exceptional job you did?
  2. Using step one as a springboard, brainstorm potential new titles.  Feel free to reach out to colleagues, friends, and family to add to the list.
  3. With management’s input, decide on the best job title that resonates with you, your company and your “customers”
  4. Go live your title.  Young says, “Whatever your title is…go live your title… That’s what you’ll be.”

The value of this activity is not so much about declaring a new job title and ordering up new business cards, but in the creative process that leads to the creation of the title. Cable says: “The exercise causes job incumbents to ask themselves,

‘What is the purpose of the work, and what is my unique connection to it?’”

“Most employees knew the answers to these questions at some point, but it is easy to forget them in the midst of day-to-day hassles.”

So what’s your unique job title?  Josh Linkner cataloged 21 of his favorite job titles and Fast Company suggested these up-and-coming job titles.   I’ve always wanted to be a Tsarina ever since I read the book, Nicholas and Alexandra….


If you are responsible for writing annual performance reviews OR are the direct supervisor of an employee, join us for a webinar  called “A Better Alternative to the Annual Performance Review” on September 29th featuring international business transformation specialist, Joe Sherren, CSP, HoF, Fellow GSF.

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CMC, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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