C-suite titles are about as standard in business as coffee cups and laptops, but according to one executive, they're dinosaurs that should have gone extinct a long time ago. Jamie Fertsch, Co-Founder and Director of NextDesk, has done away with C-suite labels and claims to have gotten incredibly positive results.
Why C-suite titles just weren't good enough
Fertsch asserts that, even before she and her team decided to ditch the C-suite, they wanted to hire individuals who were super hands on. They also wanted to support the sharing of ideas across all departments and levels of the business. But C-suite titles inhibited these goals, creating distance and division between workers: Executives cling to the reputation the titles offer and don't want to give up that status by "working down", while lower-level workers feel intimidated by or resent the titles and see the executives as less approachable.
"[...] C-suite titles [imply] to us that someone is sitting in an office and unreachable," Fertsch says. "The last thing NextDesk wants is a CEO or COO to feel like they're above building a desk and a builder to feel like they can't contribute great product or shipping ideas. Everyone is on an equal playing field at NextDesk, which we all love."
If not C-suite titles, then what?
Titles don't just convey a business pecking order. They also practically identify roles individuals within the company have, making it easy for others to know who to contact or talk to. From that standpoint, Fertsch and her team weren't against titles altogether. They just wanted to use ones that were on par with the collaborative, get-your-hands-dirty atmosphere of the company.
"Instead of a CEO, we have a Director. Instead of hiring a COO, we have a Production Manager and a Director of Operations, and instead of a CFO we have a Senior Accountant," Fertsch explains. "To us, a title like 'Production Manager' means that the person will be on the floor solving problems all day and creating solutions."
Reactions and results
Fertsch asserts that the anticipated benefits of a shift away from C-suite title were realized. People welcomed the decision because of clear communication of the company's vision and felt empowered to be more hands on. That positively affected the bottom line. "After we removed C-suite titles," she says, "we noticed that our directors and managers were even more diligent about being on the floor all the time. Rather than being stuck in an office, our former C-suite is now working directly with the entire team to solve problems. This has made a huge difference from an operational efficiency perspective--our inaccuracy rate is less than 1 percent!"
Outside the company, reactions to the lack of C-suite titles is still one of surprise, but people are curious, too. "Some professionals outside of our business are confused and make assumptions about why we don't have a C-suite. Many are quick to assume that NextDesk isn't a successful company since we don't have a C-suite. It turns to interest, though, and [...] people love asking why we don't have a CEO, which always leads to great conversations."
Should you follow NextDesk's example?
Fertsch says that, while the decision to remove C-suite titles was simple for her business, it affects everything the company does. She acknowledges, too, that it's not a crime to like the recognition that a title can bring--that's natural based on the psychological need for affirmation. Subsequently, she concedes that it might not be the right choice for every business and encourages leaders to think long and hard about whether they have the support in place to make it work.
But if you do want to try the approach? Fertsch has some basic tips:
- Make sure everybody is on board and aligned. "From co-founders to entry-level employees, the entire team needs to support and foster the C-suiteless model."
- Hire talent that believes in your company's mission. "Hiring talent who are willing to contribute great ideas without an ego has to be at the core of what you do, beyond the leadership team. You might come across some great talent, but if their number one priority is a title, they're probably not the best fit for your company. If leadership loses focus on the type of personality during the C-suiteless structure completely falls apart."
- Adhere to the C-suiteless structure. "Just because you removed the C-suite title doesn't mean the work stops there! [...] It's up to the entire team to make sure this philosophy is applied every step of the way in hiring, management and developing people's careers."
For better or worse, all words have power, and titles have influence. As long as you understand what the potential ramifications are for the titles you opt for are, there's really no right or wrong. Get out of the box if it works for you, and if it doesn't, just try to respect those dancing to the beat of their own drum. Ultimately, we're all just after success, and taking different approaches to get it is perfectly legitimate.