Back In Motion CEO Jason T Smith believes that getting rid of job titles can both improve a business’ culture and help it thrive moving forward. Wellness Daily spoke with him about how this can happen.
1. What is the workplace benefit of eliminating job titles?
Job titles get in the way of innovation, freedom and empowerment. They are often ambiguous, incomplete and self-limiting. Titles put people into boxes, and I want them to work and think outside of their box. Getting rid of job titles initiated a leadership and wellness revolution in the Back In Motion Health Group. We discovered an authentic and scalable way to give each team member the freedom to do what they love and excel at it without the restrictive labels of a title. Today, we stand having achieved brand presence in Australia and New Zealand, generate revenues of close to $50 million in annual client services, and now officially host over 110 locations. If I had known this was going to be the result, I would have de-titled our organisation years earlier.
2. From a wellness perspective, how does this impact upon one’s status within the environment and workplace?
Many people spend 80 per cent of their time doing what they are only 20 per cent equipped for – like a reverse Pareto principle. We needed to change this, as it was death by a thousand cuts to the mental psyche of our colleagues. We wanted the right pegs in the right holes; people doing at least 80 per cent of the work they were built for. And more than doing well, I wanted our people to be well. We are human beings, not human doings. I realised that healthy people are better than smart ones, and so wholeness, happiness and alignment were crucial ideals for our workplace. Unfortunately, titles, hierarchy, static job descriptions, executive elitism, micro-management and lack of autonomy seem to rob us of true health. Many of our best had lost ground to progressive tiredness and confusion… with looming burnout. We saw lots of strained activity and exhausted souls. Every team member had skills, experience, passions and aspirations they wanted to grow into… but felt stuck. Removing job titles meant people were released from arbitrary confines and pigeon holes. Everyone had the opportunity to re-imagine their best contribution to the team and flourish in the process.
3. Does this strategy make people more anxious about career progression?
One of the greatest challenges we still wrestle with in the de-titled model we call ONEteam is how to facilitate individuals through a self-directed path of career progression. We want them to advance in knowledge, experience, responsibility and earning. But we don’t have a linear, top-down structure that presents an obvious pathway for this. We don’t want one! What we want is the more creative, intuitive and tailored opportunities embedded within a non-linear path. Growing in tangential ways that serve the mission are rewarded more than just climbing a traditional promotions ladder. The former relies on much more flexibility and mental agility, and certainly favours the brave. We encourage people to take creative risks, practice courage, and disrupt their own roles. In the process, they bounce forward. It may be scary at first, but most people grow immeasurably through the process and do not regret the opportunity to think big.
4. What are the dangers of having entrenched, traditional job titles in a workplace? Why must these be challenged?
Our traditional pyramid model was unintentionally suffocating talented people through hierarchy and self-limiting position descriptions. Job titles and lines of reporting became discriminatory. Strategy and decisions were mostly formulated in a linear, top-down fashion. Conversations happened behind closed doors. Without noticing it, elitism and class divisions crept into our workplace. People were being artificially designated into executive, management and support strata. Influence was driven more by seniority and position, rather than by intelligence and merit. Creativity died. It might have been “normal”, but it wasn’t optimal. We had to shake it up to protect our people and achieve our mission.
5. For an individual, how can this new workplace structure of no titles improve emotional and psychological wellbeing?
We are body, soul and spirit in the complete picture. What we do at work defines a large part of our health at all three levels. Great people are sometimes stuck in bad jobs with labels that misrepresent to the work around them who they are. Our emotional and psychological wellbeing relies on having clear self-identity, profound purpose, energising vision, and a sense of worthwhile contribution. It also shouldn’t come at the expense of de-meaning or belittling anyone else. So, let’s remove titles and let people’s best inner selves scream to the world around them what they can offer. You will be surprised just how sensational the most “average” person can be when the absence of a title allows them to think, speak, act and achieve like the boss. And every one of us becomes more healthy for it.