As an ex-researcher turned advisor, I still consider several practices of the corporate world as bizarre. One of them caught my attention as soon as I started in my new position this year: hyper-inflated job titles1 and acronyms. Here is a list of my favourites:

  • Key Account Manager (KAM)
  • Personal Assistant (PA)
  • Subject Matter Expert (SME)
  • Vice President (VP)

George Carlin would probably have considered this list as “tortured modern language designed to soften reality, make people feel good, and in general dress things up a little.” 🙂 In this post, I aim to show how you could reduce the number of words in these titles and make a better use of the lingua franca we all agreed on.

Key Account Manager

The first time I read Key Account Manager, I parsed it as Key (Account Manager), i.e., Key is an adjective of Manager. I considered Key as superfluous because there is only one Account Manager per account. Nevertheless, a native English speaker explained to me that the right way to parse this title is (Key Account) Manager, i.e., Key is an adjective of Account. Unfortunately, I still consider Key as superfluous because all accounts are key accounts, so I suggest we delete it.

Personal Assistant

Personal Assistant is the typical example of an inefficient title replacing an efficient one so that the job sounds more important. In fact, the English language already has a single word representing this title: Secretary, which is defined as “a person employed by an individual or in an office to assist with correspondence, make appointments, and carry out administrative tasks.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Secretary, so I do not understand why we should use two words instead of one to express the same concept.

Subject Matter Expert

My first assignment in my new position was to be an SME in a bid to a customer. I already knew this acronym, but with a different semantics: Small to Medium Enterprise. It turned out SME meant Subject Matter Expert, another brilliant example of an inefficient title substituting an efficient one: Specialist, which is defined as “a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field.” Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Specialist, so why not using the existing English vocabulary?

Vice President

The person who interviewed me for my new position is a Vice President. Vice comes from Latin and means “in place of.” Therefore, Vice President literally means “a person who replaces the President.” I expected that an organization of almost 9 000 people would have a few Vice Presidents and one President. It turned out the organization has hundreds of Vice Presidents and no President. Yes, because above the Vice Presidents there are the Executive Vice Presidents, and at the top of the pyramid there are the Chief X Officers (e.g., Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, etc.) Most Vice Presidents have a leadership function, so perhaps we should use another single word to represent this title: Leader, which is defined as “a person who leads or commands a group or organization.

Taking these suggestions into account, I propose you my revised list of deflated job titles:

  • Key Account Manager Account Manager
  • Personal Assistant Secretary
  • Subject Matter Expert Specialist
  • Vice President Leader

Effective, efficient, and simple, right? So simple that you do not even need acronyms for these titles.

What do you think?

Footnotes

  1. For simplicity, we do not distinguish between titles, ranks, and roles.