Does your designation define your incompetence?

Well, after slogging it for around two decades and meeting intelligent and dumb people on the go, this has been one question that has always played on my mind! So much so that eventually when it came to start on my own- and when my CA asked me what designation I wanted to have (as part of the company formation process requirements), well I was left with even more predicament! This piece is not to prove anything or discount away the merits of having those wonderful visiting cards (that give you that high every time you give it to your extended cousins at an Indian wedding! or when you give it to people – especially when no once cares and no one is requesting for one!), neither is it about deciding what’s wrong or right- it’s about having some fun by sharing the observations that we make and try to engage with the limited supply of common sense that we have to decipher is any of this really makes any sense!

Way back when I was into sales, a part of my job involved reaching out to enterprise clients and offer business solutions – the first thing that struck me (while I was meeting representatives of a private bank) was very interesting! This was the time when, if you were an MBA (from any college) in India- you were the next big sensation! Well when I went into the meeting (as a designated Sales Manager – the only one from my organisation), I was greeted by 7 youngsters (all young hotshots averaging around 25-26 years), I was around 32 then, and the next big surprise came, when I learnt all were there to meet me! and you know what, as we exchanged the cards (as was customary then) each of these 7 people were Associate Vice Presidents (AVPs)! I was like, “WTF”. Eventually as the meeting progressed a lot of things got clear, none of them had the authority to buy a ball-point pen forget evaluating a business solution for their bank, none of them had a team and guess what two had already resigned! None of them had technical understanding and I had to eventually just meet up with their Head of Department later (who was twice my age and technologically challenged – as expected- that was the beginning of technological up-gradation in Indian banking system then!

As years’ went by, this instance always remained with me and every now and then flashes of corporate level incompetence could be seen across as people flashed their business cards with all the heavy English words that they could think of- at times I wondered if these companies had hired Copywriters in their HR team even to come up with those jazzy designations which on ground meant almost nothing! In another interesting case, once while I was working with an advertising firm, we had this whole family of designations (which was, I believe created when the industry was doing really well and warranted those many clinical details on business cards) but, me being me, when I asked a person what was an AVP (Associate Vice President) doing differently on a said account then a CSD (Client Servicing Director) or a VP (Vice President) and what was the “Group” referring to in the designation of a “Group Account Director” when the individual was slogging on a single client all through the year (that also on one aspect of marketing communication challenge- namely- BTL (Below The Line)! – there was only one reply- silence and a smile! Finding no sane replies, my observation and informal chats with people helped to connect the dots and get a complete understanding about the ecosystem that we call as “Workplace”

Well it turns out, like with everything else, all things started well, whether it was the banking sector or the advertising agency space, all of them were shaped on best practices that came with international alliances or international standards and norms as the case would have been- but what got left out very importantly was – the generous use of able discretion to award or present a specific designation and attach it to a particular task/role. This got compounded as Incompetent designations met Incompetent people (which was the function of limited ability to purchase real talent at a real cost). So, no surprises what happened next! Eventually if you hire a chef, who has experience in oriental cuisine and ask that person to dish out Italian- well you will be served for sure- but with a twist and that’s where the whole work arena has landed over! Walk into any office today and what you see is two hundred designations, three hundred people and no one sure enough of what they really do, not knowing where to start and where to end – with regards to the designations that they carry! So is this all really gone wrong or are these just odd cases! For that, I request you to consider a few more sane examples!

I am sure you always admire your law enforcement agencies and defense forces- you should- they do keep the dark forces away!- Well irrespective where in the world you are- one thing is common these are disciplined forces- Each team player exactly knows what they need to do in a particular situation and they know exactly when they need back-up and when they can handle things by themselves- yes and they too have designations and follow command! So how come they are so clear headed and sure and there seems to be no ambiguity? Before I answer this for you another one example to make things really simple!

We have all visited a doctor at one time or another, what do you see in hospitals and clinics?- There is direction- The moment your consultant thinks- that you are really messed up beyond his cognitive abilities- a senior doctor will be brought in- to understand how badly you have screwed up yourself- why does this happen- well experience yes (experience as in not spending more time at the hospital- but in context of having worked on complicated and more number of such complicated cases!)

So if you see, in the case of our defense forces or doctors- when they add the designation as “Group Captain” or “Colonel” or “Senior Cardiologist” or a “Senior Surgeon” one thing you can be sure- they will not be 25-26 year old’s and they want be faffing around about what they can do- because these are the people, my friend – who know for sure- that they are last people standing between your miserable existence on earth and your flight to after- life!

Well to make the point simple- Designations have to be reflective of “What you do”, “can do” and are “allowed to do” with regards to your workplace. Importantly organisations need to wake up and understand , gone are the days when people could get intimidated by reading “President” and “Senior President” on cards- well frankly no one cares- because the other person getting your card is also part of corporate slavery in equal measure like yourself- so it’s time to knock off all the falsified egos and get the blinders off! Unless this is done business cards spell out incompetence towards the designation or the individual as things become apparent through business interactions!

Through my limited experience, when business cards match personalities of the people who carry them and sense of completeness is achieved (not getting a deal or a sign off), rather a space wherein there has been an intelligent exchange of ideas which reason why things can move ahead or otherwise- it is then that justice has been done to the designation and the person who upholds it!

It is very simple to remember, keep designations aligned to the work and the people who they are being awarded to- until that happens each one of us can continue calling ourselves “CEO” of our own lives!

Think and simplify!-Incidentally, this is also one of the few things that we do as part of our consulting offering-adding common-sense to businesses! Until next time Ciao! Do write to me at and do let me know what you would like to read next!

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