Should I Get Rid of Titles? Advice from Jim Collins & Others

Amber Johnson Change, Culture, Leadership

Hands ladder

An increasing number of businesses, including Blink (a Digital Product Design firm we profiled here) are moving away from employee titles.

“We realized that most titles are non-informative to outsiders,” says Karen Clark Cole, CEO of Blink. “What clients really need to know is about your experience and how you will be an asset to this project.”

Blink is not the only firm to make this decision. Chicago web developers The Nerdery casually refers to all team members as “co-presidents,” encouraging them to think like an owner and entrepreneur. CloudFare eliminated titles all together, using function rather than title to describe an employee’s role.

These decisions are often made as a way to empower team members to lead within their locus of control. In companies like Blink, the title-free approach also allows team members to be utility players: leading one initiative while contributing technical expertise on another, and serving as an internal consultant on a third.

So should your company eliminate all titles? “It can be a way to allow leaders to naturally emerge,” says Clark Cole. Ask these questions as you consider the idea:

  • Do our titles ever stifle creativity or quality?
  • Do our titles keep some people from showing leadership, because they assume others who “out rank” them will take responsibility?
  • Do our titles confuse clients or provide little meaning?
  • Do our titles accurately reflect what people do?
  • Do most people want to hang on to their titles for resume building?

In the end, Clark Cole and her Blink team opted to eliminate most – but not all – titles. She took the advice of personal mentor and best-selling author Jim Collins, who advised against removing titles when doing so would cause ambiguity or be non-authentic. Blink kept the titles of CEO, CFO and President as those jobs have responsibilities that are not shared and others would not grow into.

Clark Cole's movable whiteboards allowed her to improve the strategy "on the go."


Read more about Clark Cole’s work: Creating a Business that’s Optimized for Personal Growth and a Thriving Culture


Collins advised that, if the buck is going to stop somewhere, everyone should be clear where that is.

“It’s been a tough transition, but people are starting to introduce themselves based on what they will be doing on a specific project and what their relevant background and areas of expertise are, not simply a title that may or may not mean anything to the audience,” says Clark Cole.


Amber Johnson is the Center’s corporate relations advisor and a marketing and branding specialist.

Image credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

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