The confusion of job titles

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What’s in a name? A great deal, obviously — especially when you are talking about job titles. Confusion reigns in this industry; titles are allocated haphazardly and inconsistently. When you deal with a person, you can’t rely on their title to give you an indication of their responsibilities and position, or what they should be.

Take the terms manager and supervisor, for instance. What’s the difference? In my understanding they’re quite different jobs. A supervisor leads the staff and runs the business on a day to day basis. A supervisor’s responsibility only extends as far as a roster period or a stock order cycle — maybe a month at the most. If you stand back and analyse their real influence, they control the staff who do most of the work that is of economic benefit to the business. Their primary skill must be their people handling.

The manager, on the other hand, should be attending to a more future oriented role. They should be addressing issues of policy and strategy, such as: What are the fashion trends in the industry — where are they going? Where are we going to get finance for expansion? What new technology is available? How are we going to recruit and train our staff in future? What legislation changes will affect us? How are we going to market and advertise our business? The manager should be looking forward to next month, next six months, next year, the year after and so on . . . according to a five-year business plan.

A manager’s skills should obviously include people handling, because they usually have to lead a group of supervisors, but these are not the most important skills they need. Their primary skills should be in analysis, planning, organisation and negotiation. These skills are necessary for the long term health of any business, no matter how small it may be.

It is quite common, especially in a smaller business, for people to occupy more than one role. A business owner is often required to be jack of all trades — managing, supervising and working the floor or the kitchen. The interesting question from a management consultant’s point of view is: Are all these functions being performed? Often, nobody is managing in the true sense of the word. The so-called manager is actually supervising and the business is bumbling along with no clear plan or vision behind it.

I took a poll in a recent training course of the ten people who bore the title of manager, or who thought of themselves as a manager. I asked them what they actually did at work. Eight out of the ten were really supervising and devoted no time to future oriented activities. Four of the eight were business owners. Who was managing their business?

Most of the managers I polled had supervisors under them. What were their supervisors doing? By asking a series of questions I established that they had no clear responsibility, accountability, power or authority but were supervisors in name only. The manager was acting out the role of the dictator and trying to run the lot. Most admitted that they were doing this badly and that their working life consisted in battling an endless series of crises; this is normal evidence of a lack of proper structure or forward planning.

The same confusion is found when you look at the tile of Chef. What is a Chef? Sure, I now it’s the French word for chief, but all kinds of people call themselves Chefs. The cook in a small restaurant with an apprentice and a kitchen hand calls themself a chef. So does the person in charge of a hotel or hospital kitchen with seventy-five staff under them. To me, the former is a cooking supervisor, the latter is a kitchen manager — radically different roles requiring vastly different skills.

We’ve become so concerned with status and titles that we’ve confused the whole industry. For example, I recently advertised for a hotel general manager to run a large hotel and gaming complex owned by one of my clients. I was flooded with resumes from ‘bar managers’ and ‘restaurant managers’ none of whom had any experience in management as I understand it. They were mostly supervisors who had been given grandiose titles (probably to make up for lousy pay).

This confusion has made recruitment far more difficult than it needs to be. Imagine a perfect world where you could advertise for a supervisor or a manager and rely on their previous title and a reference check as an indication of their worth. I can ring a job applicant’s previous boss (probably a supervisor who calls themselves a manager), and ask them questions about the applicant’s management abilities and get responses that leave me none the wiser, or worse, give me serious reservations about the environment they have been trained in. To recruit properly, I have to spend considerable time asking very in depth questions to assess their level of knowledge and experience.

It must be really hard for a young person trying to build a career. How do you know what jobs to apply for? A supervisor’s job with a professional company would be a far better career move than a manager’s job with Fawlty Towers. With the development of bigger and bigger hospitality businesses in Australia we are seeing the development of proper career path outside the big hotels and fast food companies. It’s a pity job titles are not uniform.

It would be great if when I met somebody and they told me they were a Manager or a Chef, I knew what they were.

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