Josh Reeves, the CEO and co-founder of the payroll-software startup Gusto, has a strange job title on LinkedIn.
Unlike other founders who might play coy with quippy euphemisms like “chief empathy officer” or “janitor,” Reeves’ job title is aspirational: “Building Gusto for the Long Term at Gusto,” it reads.
The idea of building a company for the long-term is a popular talking point in Silicon Valley. Jeff Bezos’s 1997 shareholder letter, which still gets passed around at business school functions and startup founder meetups, bucks the trend of maximizing quarterly revenue in favor of planning for sustainability. “We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term,” he writes.
For Reeves, one manifestation of his long-term approach is to not focus on job titles. In his mind, there are two functions of titles. First, they clarify someone’s role within the company. But “even though a title is meant to clarify what someone does, often times it creates confusion because people don’t know what those adjectives actually mean,” he says. (Though, if you become the “Nothing” of your company, like Elon Musk has tried to do at Tesla, it won’t do much clarifying either.)
Instead of focusing on their role, Gusto employees focus on whatever team they’re on. So, an employee might simply be a member of the communications team rather than a deputy communications manager.
Second, Reeves thinks workers should know their status in the company so they have a sense for how they might grow in the future. “Title is a poor solution for that,” he says. “What’s actually more important is having clear levels, having effective one-on-ones, and making it transparent that if you develop XYZ skills, there’s a new level you can achieve.”
Rather than strive for a different title, which Reeve’s believe is an inexact proxy for career development, Gusto employees work with their managers to map out their careers. Instead of an outward facing label like “junior,” “senior,” or “associate,” Gusto employees know what level they’re at within their department and what skills they’ll have to develop to level up.
Lastly, titles shouldn’t lead to an inflated or deflated ego. After all, the goal should of an organization should be to get all team members working toward the company’s mission, not their next promotion. Especially early on in a company, Reeves believes assigning titles too quickly can lead to title inflation.
“There should be no such thing as a VP at a 15-person company,” he says.