Why work profiles should replace job titles

Aug 19 2015 by Jurgen Appelo Print This Article

I have often complained about the many problems organizations have with job titles. The most obvious examples are job title inflation, ridiculous names, lack of standardization and the prejudice and false assumptions that are attached to people with certain titles. However titles exist for a reason: it’s hard not to have names for the work we do.

Sure, it’s fine for a start-up or small company to ditch all roles and job titles, but this doesn’t scale up. When you’re working with 150 people or more, you’re going to need abstraction.

We want names, not only because they help people to understand each other’s responsibilities, but also because they are a reflection of the brands people are representing. We want names that allow people to have a sense of progress. And we want names to influence people’s behaviors in a positive way.

Can we do this? I think we can, or else I would be a fiction writer, not a business writer.

Create a Work Profile

I actually call myself a ‘Creative Networker’. That’s the most accurate and succinct description I could think of that covers all the projects I am involved in. My business cards and personal website explain that I’m a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, and freethinker. (I seem to have forgotten ‘bragger’ in that list.)

We can refer to the total package as a primitive version of my work profile. It is a brief description of what I do and what I have to offer, and, similar to the ‘about’ page on my website, I am the only person who is allowed to update my work profile.

Work profiles are the perfect replacement for traditional job descriptions because they move ownership from the human resources department to the employee. They also enable organizations to grow work around people, instead of force-fitting people into narrow job descriptions.

They do this at Cirque du Soleil, the entertainment company in Canada. The company builds its shows around the unique talents of its people rather than slotting them into predefined jobs.

Here is an excerpt from my profile. I just updated it this week:

Jurgen Appelo: Creative Networker

  • I formally represent the company to the outside world.
  • I manage the entire content module process for Management 3.0.
  • I manage the entire book sales process.
  • I engage with our members on a daily basis.
  • I handle all inquiries to [email protected].
  • I handle all payments of suppliers.

Your work profile is like a service interface to your colleagues. But it is also a reflection of your personal brand. You can adopt your favorite name and list the responsibilities you take upon yourself. You could also add the things that you commit to do for your colleagues. It is like a job description, only you own it.

Grow a Personal Brand

Just as commercial brands describe the relationships between people and products or businesses, personal brands describe the relationships between people and other people. Employers, employees, customers, and other stakeholders develop perceptions, opinions, and feelings about each other.

Brands, whether commercial or personal, find themselves somewhere between intention and reception. I can choose to be creative (intention), but I can be perceived as just weird (reception).

The more effort we put into learning how to grow, shape, and communicate our personal brands, the less we leave gray areas for others to fill in. If we don’t develop our own personal brands, others will do it for us. And this is important, because personal brands apply to the context of a lifetime and beyond! Your work profile may change from employer to employer, but you always bring your personal brand wherever you go!

Growing a personal brand is crucial if you want some level of control over the development of your career. The way the market perceives you will affect which jobs you get, which work profiles you can write, which projects you will work on, and which opportunities will be passed on to you.

So forget about traditional resumes. From now on, you will be judged primarily by what people can find out about you online, the people you are connected to, and the projects and organizations you are associated with.

Think Ashton Kutcher. Think Lady Gaga. Social media, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Klout, and your personal blog or site (and in the case of George Clooney, movie end credits and IMDb.com) will be your new resume and business card. Like work profiles, your social media profile will also be a reflection of your personal brand. It will reflect your reputation. You must think of yourself as the CEO of your own company: Me Inc.

A well-communicated personal brand can work like a magnet, attracting similar-minded people and organizations with cultures that fit your personality like a glove. The trouble is, it also attracts ‘personal branding’ gurus, social media ‘experts’ and other nasty parasites. But hey, nobody said work-life is without dangers!


About The Author

Jurgen Appelo
Jurgen Appelo

Jurgen Appelo is pioneering management to help creative organizations survive and thrive in the 21st century. He is the author of Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. His most recent book, #Workout, offers practical ideas to engage workers, improve work and delight clients. He is also a Top 50 Leadership Expert and a Top 100 Great Leadership Speaker.