Jane Perdue, MBA, CEO and founder of The Braithewaite Group, is a leadership consultant, coach, speaker and author who challenges your thinking at the intersection of the art of leadership and the science of business. The Braithewaite Group, is a small female-owned professional development and leadership consulting firm. Jane’s career includes 20 years of executive level leadership, with 15 of those years spent as a Vice President for Fortune 100 companies. She writes a job coach column for the Charleston, SC Post and Courier and has made speaking and TV appearances discussing leadership, purpose, power and performance. Read Jane’s response: “Ambiguous Title”
Dear Office Politics, My dilemma sounds like a unique twist on a common issue. I have been with my current employer for two years and a couple of months ago my VP recognized my hard work and dedication by giving me a “promotion” with a significant salary adjustment.
I was moved to a Senior level of my existing title but was told that HR did not want to create this new “Senior” title in the HR system. I was also told I should go ahead and get business cards with the new title. My VP has not mentioned this promotion to anyone on our team but the VP’s boss has introduced me with the “Senior” title to others in the company. I suspect the VP does not want to be questioned by my peers as to why they were not offered this type of promotion.
Something doesn’t feel right. If I used the new title on business cards and email communications or post it on my LinkedIn profile, it is sure to generate questions. Generally I know the right thing to do and don’t spend time on this type of issue (I prefer to spend time adding value to the company) but this is distracting my focus and the ambiguity is uncomfortable for me. So, what do you think? Go with it and use the new title or keep the old title, put the new one out of my mind and enjoy the new-found cash?
OFFICE-POLITICS ADVISER JANE PERDUE
Dear Ambiguous Title:
Kudos on obviously being a smart and effective employee dedicated to providing value to your employer. No wonder your boss wants to reward you! However, your well-intentioned boss has gone rogue, placing you in a no-man’s land right between your colleagues and the organization’s compensation program. No wonder you’re uncomfortable!
Bona fide Promotions
Bona fide promotions are events to be celebrated and communicated. Bona fide promotions also have three elements: a new title, a higher rate of pay and new job duties requiring greater skills and demanding more responsibility. You mention only two elements: the new “senior” title and the salary increase. So, if your duties haven’t changed, it isn’t surprising that there’s no corresponding job title in the HR system.
As you report to a VP who reports to a VP, I surmise that your employer is fairly large and probably has a formal job evaluation process as part of its compensation program. Compensation programs have a lot in common with icebergs: most employees see just the tip and aren’t aware of the significant body of work that goes on behind the scenes to create, maintain and administer pay plans that are externally competitive, internally fair and equitable, and legally defensible.
A pay plan view from the 100,000 foot level:
Work functions are analyzed, given a job title, placed in a job family, benchmarked to salary data, and then assigned a pay grade.
Perhaps a sports analogy may help illustrate this point. Pro football teams have three quarterbacks: the starter, the back-up and the third string. All three positions have a clearly defined place in the work hierarchy. Each job holder knows what’s expected of him. Individuals are recruited into one of the three titles and can move up, down or even out of the position. Pay rates are different.
Imagine the confusion that would be created if a coach wanted to call his third string quarterback a “senior third string quarterback” because the incumbent works hard, does a good job and shows promise of being high potential talent. The job titling system isn’t set up to reward good performance.
Your situation is no different. If your job duties haven’t changed, what your boss did for you was a merit pay increase, not a promotion. So you were right to place the word promotion in quotation marks in your letter. I’m impressed by your perceptiveness in recognizing the conflict that would be stirred up amongst your peers should you go public with the new title. I also understand your struggle with the ambiguity of the situation, thinking that promotions are good news that should be shared, not kept under wraps.
Now that we’ve explored the likely system scenario, let’s explore your next steps. I think a face-to-face discussion with your boss is what’s next. As this issue is several months old and is still alive in your mind, you need closure before the situation begins to negatively impact your performance and/or your relationship with your boss.
Consider these 3 options…
As I see it, there are three options you and your boss should evaluate. Part of being a good boss is being a leader – someone who will partner with you to work through difficult situations. If your boss wants to keep you on the team, he should be willing to review the pros and cons of each option with you.
Option #1 – go rogue all the way and start using the new title. Your boss must be willing to gird up for battle from the compensation folks as well as the outcry of unfair treatment from other department members. You have to be prepared for the ruckus from your peers and understand that the job title you use doesn’t agree with official company records (a really bad scene for future reference checks).
Option #2 – call a spade a spade and recognize that what happened was a merit increase, not a promotion and keep using your former job title. Find lots of comfort in the fact that your significant pay increase was approved – obviously everyone in the line of pay approvals agreed that your performance warranted an increase.
Option #3 – work with HR to determine what needs to be done to create a new position so all three elements of a bona fide promotion could apply to your situation. Perhaps there is additional new work your boss could assign to you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I empathize with your situation – an event that should have been positive and rewarding turned out to be confusing and disappointing. Not the outcome, I’m sure, that your boss wanted to have happen. So, all the more reason to partner with him or her and devise a solution that works to everyone’s best interests.
Good luck and thanks for contacting Dear Office-Politics for our advice!
About Jane Perdue, MBA
Jane Perdue, MBA, CEO and founder of The Braithewaite Group, is a leadership consultant, coach, speaker and author who challenges your thinking at the intersection of the art of leadership and the science of business. The Braithewaite Group, is a small female-owned professional development and leadership consulting firm focusing on that exquisite but rare business balance between head and heart.
Jane’s career includes 20 years of executive level leadership, with 15 of those years spent as a Vice President for Fortune 100 companies. She writes a job coach column for the Charleston, SC Post and Courier and has made speaking and TV appearances discussing leadership, purpose, power and performance. Jane works with organizations and individuals to bring a sense of fun, adventure and limitless possibility — along with creative and playful thinking — to leading people, achieving common visions, delivering results and being our personal best.