HR REPORT: Do Your Job Titles Reflect Your Brand?

Mark T. Broth, Esq.

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

We are all somewhat familiar with the concept of “branding.”  While it can be defined in different ways, branding generally refers to the attempt to generate an emotional response towards a particular product or business.  That emotional response is usually the result of some combination of advertising, marketing, customer service and product quality.  It is the consistency of those forms of messaging that build the brand identity.  McDonald’s, Apple, and Harley-Davidson are classic examples of businesses who, through consistency of message, service and quality, have created strong brand identities.  Consider the current advertising by Subaru, whose branding seeks to elicit the emotion of adventure, and Corona, which seeks to emote a beach vacation in every bottle. Some companies have renamed themselves in an effort to rebrand their product to create a more positive (or to avoid a negative) identity.  For example, Phillip Morris rebranded as Altria because of the negative perception of cigarette manufacturers.

Branding can also be useful within an organization.  By changing the name of an operating division, a business can change both its internal and external perception.  Consider the different public perception that may exist for a “Complaint Department” and a “Customer Satisfaction Department,” which seems more likely to be interested in solving a customer’s problems?  Now consider the employees working in those departments.  Even with essentially the same job description, which seems like the more rewarding job:  “Customer Satisfaction Manager” or “Complaint Department Manager”?  By branding the job title consistent with the brand of the department and the entire organization, the business can evoke a particular response from its customers, as well as its employees.  Other examples include car dealerships, which have rebranded car salespersons as “product specialists” and customers as “guests” in order to bring a different attitude to the car buying experience.

There is no reason that these same strategies cannot work in municipal government.  The role of local government is to provide essential services to the community in a safe and efficient manner.  But many municipal department and job titles are not branded in a way that furthers these values. Some communities have begun to explore a branding approach by rebranding Public Works Departments as “Community Services Departments” and Welfare Departments as “Human Services” – new titles that are both more user friendly and rewarding for employees.  But there are many other opportunities.  For example, students relate better to “school resource officers” than to “police officers.”  Would a community also relate better to “peace officers” and “emergency responders” than to “police officers” and “firefighters”?  Consider public schools.  Should the head of a school system have the same job title (Superintendent) as the person who runs a correctional facility or waste water treatment facility?  If a school district’s goal is to provide education, then perhaps the head of that organization should be the “Chief Education Officer.”  Even without a change in job duties, the change in title could result in positive movement in both external and internal perceptions of the position.  (And perhaps the head of a correctional facility should be the “Director of Correctional Services”).  Should school principals be “Education Directors”?  And by the way, doesn’t “Student Facilities Support Staff” suggest a more holistic and positive attitude towards building maintenance than “custodian” or “janitor”?

Public resentment and distrust of local government is a function of a lack of understanding of the crucial services that government employees provide.  Updating titles to more clearly reflect the mission and purpose of local government may be a useful first step towards improving the relationships between local governments and the communities that they serve.

Mark Broth is a member of DrummondWoodsum’s Labor and Employment Group.  His practice focuses on the representation of private and public employers in all aspects of the employer-employee relationship.  This is not a legal document nor is it intended to serve as legal advice or a legal opinion.  Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, P.A. makes no representations that this is a complete or final description or procedure that would ensure legal compliance and does not intend that the reader should rely on it as such. “Copyright 2018 Drummond Woodsum.  These materials may not be reproduced without prior written permission.”