Just Tell Me What You're Good At

 
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When I returned to Tangerine in Canada, from spending time at the Tangerine US business (then known as ING DIRECT), I discovered that certain people were taking all the opportunities to speak in key meetings while others just sat there, silently. They’d been told, or sensed, that they should keep their mouths shut. Just because it says VP on your job description, do you get to talk and a director doesn’t? We’re all “associates” when we walk into a room for a meeting, and I want all ideas and voices to be heard no matter where they come from.

We’re all “associates” when we walk into a room for a meeting, and I want all ideas and voices to be heard.

Eliminate the hierarchy. Nothing screams hierarchy more than job titles on business cards. We have never had titles on business cards or on email signatures. Everyone at Tangerine has a job description with the goal of providing clarity and accountability. However, employees also have permission and are indeed expected to reach out further and broader than the words written on a piece of paper. Clarity and accountability are absolutely required, but job descriptions are artificial and can be extremely limiting. We are lateral thinkers, problem solvers: these are the people we need to take us further.

A job title on a card is an element of traditional hierarchy from the past. We don’t want to be there. When an employee is in a meeting, she’s the leader of our business, our ambassador, and I expect her to behave that way whether she’s got the big title or not. Vice president, manager, who cares? A partner or a vendor will soon figure out that he is sitting across from the representative for our company, the best person we can send for that meeting.

I don’t know what the title is that fits my job description. I can’t put a title on it. My accountant, the insurance guy and even the government don’t get it. It doesn’t mean anything. What’s always been more important to me is to find the right way to tell a story. If you’re a customer, I’ll find the right way to tell your story. Who cares that I’m a CEO?

If it says you’ve done something on your CV, why would I check your core competencies? It says you know how to program, analyze, whatever. I’m okay with that—I start every relationship at a full tank on the trust meter. And if you can’t do what’s on your CV, I will find out and soon.

I’d rather look at people, not paper. If the system only worked on paper, most of my staff—me included—would be doing something else. I don’t want to talk about organizational charts and who reports to whom. Hierarchies have always been outside our philosophy, as much as possible. Increasingly, the worldwide trend in business is moving away from hierarchies. I think we are ahead of the curve.

Every year an employee comes to me and asks to revisit the issue around titles on business cards, etc., and every year I listen, and every time I absolutely refuse. We don’t have titles on our business cards, and that’s that. This causes some issues around clarity and accountability; but how does a little line on an organizational chart solve big issues? It doesn’t.

John Wooden, the influential basketball coach at UCLA, said, “It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” Working hard just to achieve a title is just another form of seeking credit. My approach to work and people is this: Why don’t we work together, you and me, and get the job done? Be open, honest and flexible.

Working hard just to achieve a title is just another form of seeking credit.

In some cultures or industries, you have to know who’s No. 1, who’s No. 2, who’s No. 3. In my view, you’re a person: Just say what you’re responsible for. Tell me what you’re good at. And if you want to, tell me what you don’t do, don’t know and aren’t good at. When our people say I’m responsible for the products in the bank, or I’m running our channels, they aren’t tying themselves to a general title without specifics. It’s in their nature not to get caught up in titles and descriptions.

People do like to go home to their loved ones, their parents, their friends, and say, “Look what just happened: I’m the CEO of that, or the manager of this.” I get it. It’s easy for me to insist on no titles as the person in charge, and we do have people heading our various departments. If you want to put your title on your CV or tell your family, I don’t care—but I don’t want it on the bottom of your email. It sends the wrong message.

If we have this discussion in 2025 I might have a different view of some of the things I’ve done, but I don’t give up on my core beliefs or decisions because I read something different in a book. I don’t even give out my business card anymore. Give me your card and I’ll send you my ecard with a nice message.

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it. — Andrew Carnegie

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