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C-Suite Titles: What Kind of Havoc Might They Be Wreaking at Your Company?

Three reasons why executive titles may damage idea-sharing and team participation where you work.
C-Suite Titles: What Kind of Havoc Might They Be Wreaking at Your Company?
Image credit: Shutterstock

CEO, COO, CFO, CCO, CMO, CIO: The list of C-suite titles seems to be taking over every letter of the alphabet. However, all of these "chiefs" are wreaking havoc in today's small business and startup cultures.

Related: 2 Tips for How to Communicate With C-Suite Executives

And culture is no joke to these leaders. In fact, this year's TINYpulse Start-Up Culture report found that 86 percent of CEOs surveyed, from companies with fewer than 50 employees, rated the importance of culture a 10 out of 10.

Jamie Fertsch, co-founder and director of NextDesk, a standing-desk company in Georgetown, Texas, says it was dedication to company culture that convinced her and other leaders to remove C-suite titles. "NextDesk has always encouraged idea-sharing and team participation, regardless of titles," Fertsch told me by email. "By removing C-suite titles, it's that much easier for the entire team to build a collaborative, supportive and safe work environment."

A push toward collaboration puts everyone at NextDesk on a level playing field, Fertsch added. The aim is to make a CEO or COO feel that he or she is just as able to build a desk and a desk builder as a factory worker and to feel, too, that they can product ideas.

"Even if someone is making more decisions than someone else," she explained, "everyone belongs, regardless of their position -- we're all one company! This creates a culture of being aware and working together -- rather than 'You're upper management, and you're an assembler,' we are all NextDesk."

What about your company? The recognition of titles could be holding it back back from reaching its full team-building potential. Here's why small business leaders should consider removing C-suite titles from their business models:

They're not always well-deserved.

C-suite titles have evolved from titles of elevated status to frequently used bargaining chips. Often, employees are thrown into these positions as incentive to remain on board or perhaps take an alternative offer when they're not ready to manage people.

Related: Do Unique Titles Change the Way We See Job Roles?

"Small businesses have grown up with believing titles are a great way to attract talent and that they are something 'free' to give in a negotiation," Jennifer Farris, CEO and co-founder of FarsideHR, explained to me via email. Added the executive, whose planning and performance platform company is headquartered in San Francisco: "I believe that has caused the industry to be unnecessarily saturated with inflated titles where the experience doesn't line up."

In short, misalignment between titles and experience causes newly titled leaders to quickly realize they're not yet ready to jump into a leadership role.

When employees struggle to become strategic leaders, they may create even larger issues within the company structure. From micro-managing to hardly managing at all, using C-suite titles as negotiation tools can quickly destroy company morale and retention.

Those who hold them are misjudged.

We've all heard the office jokes and jabs about C-suite leaders and their lack of ability to actually contribute to the company. Most of those jokes stem from the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of company leaders.

Bradley Shaw, owner of SEO Expert Brad, Inc., a digital marketing and online consulting business in Addison, Texas, knew he wanted members of his team to be perceived by their work, not their title. "We abolished C-suite titles two years ago," Shaw shared. "No titles helps to foster a working environment where people are judged by impact, results and accomplishments rather than job title."

This kind of positive move gives employees the opportunity to really connect with their entire team. Removing the stereotypes attached to C-suite titles gives them a fresh perspective and attitude toward those they once pictured sitting in a corner office with their feet propped up on a desk.

Teamwork takes a hit.

Working together is necessary for any organization's success. But how can true teamwork happen when employees don't feel they're on a level playing field with their co-workers and leaders?

That's exactly why Ayat Shukairy, co-founder of Invesp, a conversion optimization company headquartered in Detroit, refuses to start throwing around C-suite titles on members of the founding team.

"In our own startup, everyone is working on different aspects of the business and putting in efforts across the board," Shukairy explained. "Sure, some individuals are more focused on specific areas, but ultimately, we are all partners in something small, and giving someone a C-suite title can diffuse that partner's attention to other aspects of the business."

Unfortunately, the company -- despite her efforts -- did give out a CTO title, and Shukairy's fears were realized. "The CTO now felt his role was only overseeing the development team. This hurt the company because the business needs work and effort in all aspects, not just development," she said.

Shukairy's team has since learned to distribute tasks more evenly -- no matter what an employee's title. The issue of teamwork and shared responsibility isn't one that's new to the list of problems companies deal with on a daily basis. C-suite titles only serve to deepen the complications in getting employees involved and on the same page about organizational issues.

Related: Why a C-Suite Shakeup Is Exactly What Your Company Needs

No matter how large or small a company becomes, each employee needs to have shared responsibility over its successes and failures. Putting everyone on a level playing field is just the start in creating a culture of accountability, collaboration and growth.