Title versus Project

Title versus Project

It doesn't matter whether you're the CEO or the bookkeeper, when there's a deadline to hit and a job to be done, someone needs to hit the deck and fight to win.

"That's not my job. It's not my role. This is not what I signed up for. I would much rather sit at my desk, look busy, attack my computer and get through paperwork, than to take up the responsibility of heading up a project."

Working with people is the same all around the world.

Have you ever worked with someone and you are not quite sure what they are accomplishing? You note that their title is 'Chief Coordinator of Internal Systems and Procedures' but there is no sign of accomplishment or value added in your mind. And you wrestle with yourself and convince yourself that "he is doing something of importance." After all, it must be quite important, because of the title.

When you ask him or her for a breakdown of their contribution, it sounds very technical and they use big words that convince you that they are extremely valuable. They take weeks to accomplish what look like lofty and ever moving goals, and you know no better because you have a lot on your mind. When you first hired them, they flew in like a beautiful butterfly with all sorts of exciting potential, but now it's like reverse metamorphosis took place and they move like worms through your organization.

A while ago, I worked with an organization that had 50 people on their payroll—all with great job titles, consistent wages, large mahogany desks, and 24/7 access to the tea and coffee buffet. When things got a bit tough in the economy, and the world, the company started to sweat and had to dismiss 10 people because the wages were too high (of course dismissing them was almost as expensive as keeping them due to the high benefit schemes they had).

This organization made the beautiful shift from title based leadership to project based leadership.

So getting rid of 20% of their staff, they made the remaining 40 people focus on projects not title. Before with constant titled positions, there were small goals, no deadlines, often no direct impact, a lot of bureaucracy, a consistent salary that had no relation to productivity, and roles that were hard to grade. This "title leadership" (think: my title's this, so you have to do this because my title is more important sounding than your's) caused people to get very comfortable in big chairs and focus on the details in their day. With this mentality, you hear things like "I checked my emails, I followed up on so and so, we have a delay in this, we will schedule a meeting for that, we will put in a requisition for this." If you've noticed this in your life, do what this organization did and flip to project based leadership.

Project Based Leadership

There are specific projects with specific deadlines, start and finish dates, there is a sense of urgency (when people are urgent they get creative). It is easy to measure and easy to grade. Competency is easy to recognize, strengths are easy to notice. Leadership centers around getting the project done, not the individual. Things get done, efficiently.

Project based initiatives assess the impact, breakdown titles, and enable people to be creative and find resources to accomplish the result. It's just like when you were given a project at college or high school. With projects and assignments in school, things get done on time, assessed, and graded. You had to be creative in order to get a good grade. You could ask the teacher for advice, but they were not necessarily interested in which people you spoke to, sites you visited, and books you read (don't copy) until the project was done and submitted under your name. Projects create ownership. Mere positions create delegation and allow for a putting off responsibility.

Projects foster accountability.

You have a date to ship by with fixed parameters for delivery. If it does not ship, then everyone knows where to look. Too often titles allow blame to be shifted up, down, or sideways in the food chain. "I am not the one" dies with projects.

Projects exploit competency. It no longer matters how far down the office food chain the person running with the project is, he is accountable for it and has the authority to make it happen. Suddenly Jim, who has been number crunching in a back room in Accounts, because that is what his 'Assistant Bookkeeper' title says he should do, is able to flourish and tap into a set of skills he has suppressed for the last decade as you ask him to deliver a new payroll system. And he gets it done on time.

Projects win over mere title any day.

(Photo: College of W&M)