I thought it was an anomaly when, more than a decade ago, my boss, who was the managing director, insisted on being called the “enthusiasm director.”
His upbeat demeanor certainly fit the bill. His belief that everything would be fine was unwavering, whether he was carrying on a gleeful affair with the head of the company’s public relations company (and constantly posting about their home-cooked meals) or hiring – a by one – the “creative geniuses” who were supposed to be the savior of business. (They would each inevitably fail the task.) His title and bonhomie were no doubt designed to make the workplace more family-friendly and welcoming, but in practice his mark of happiness made many people suspicious and miserable – everyone didn’t want to float. on his cloud of magical thought.
Despite this lukewarm response, my former boss may have simply been ahead of the curve with this expressive title. Today, wacky C-suite titles are all the rage. Leaders of wonder, leaders of heart, and leaders of empathy are popping up in every business. In a 2020-2021 analysis, LinkedIn researchers found 51 variations of titles beginning with “chef.” They also found that titles such as director of human resources and director of happiness were increasingly used.
While popular, sentiment-focused job titles do little more than try to hide a fundamental part of the job: its transactional nature. Your company might run more compassionately because it hired a cardiac service manager, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business, and that person can still fire you.
What does a wonder chef do?
Shep Hyken is the wonder manager at Shepard Presentations, a communications company he founded in 1983. For decades, he has forged an identity as a customer service speaker and author, helping businesses to build relationships with their customers and employees. Hyken began using his current title at least 10 years ago, moving from the simple “speaker and author.”
Since then, he’s cultivated something of an “amazing” cottage industry, writing five books with titles such as “Amaze Every Customer Every Time” and “The Amazement Revolution.” At the heart of its brand is the idea that service should be so responsive that it should surprise customers. “The Amazement Revolution,” for example, implores readers to treat customers as “members” and “partners” who share a joyous experience.
Rocket Central, a Detroit-based professional services firm, also has a director of wonder, Mike Malloy, who runs “The Pulse,” or what most companies call human resources. Malloy performs the same duties as a traditional human resources manager, but his title is designed to more accurately reflect the culture of the company. As Malloy said on the blog of Workhuman, an HR software company, culture is “the North Star,” adding that at Rocket Central, “it’s all about our culture.”
Astonishment isn’t the only newcomer to the office. If you thought home is where the heart is, think again, because the workplace now has a heart manager. Outsource Accelerator, a blog about outsourcing work, describes this role as “in charge of the well-being and overall enjoyment of company personnel.” Sometimes the Chief Heart Officer exists in addition to the Head of Human Resources, a role that is increasingly being referred to, more humanistically, as the Chief People Officer. So what does it take to be an effective Cardiac Director? Feelings, of course. Claude Silver, chief cardiac officer at VaynerMedia and self-proclaimed “first chief cardiac officer,” told Forbes in 2017 that she was “here to be of service” to her staff. She added, “I’m living my purpose. It’s not a job for me.”
While some of these titles have been around for years, there has been an increase in “sentiment” job titles since the pandemic. This is especially true for management consulting firm Deloitte. In 2020, it hired a Director of Goals to help define company purpose and help employees understand their own purpose to prevent burnout. Last year, it reappointed its CEO as Director of Empathy.
“It’s critical for companies to hire and develop more effective managers and leaders,” the company said in an invite to a webinar on CEO rebranding, adding, “It requires looking beyond traditional management development strategies and cultivating the skills most important for success.. Over the past few years, particularly during a pandemic, one of those skills is empathy – a vital leadership skill. .”
So what’s behind this wave of sentiment-centric job titles?
what’s in a name
Even when headlines seem goofy or laughable, in many cases they represent a company’s honest attempt to tackle a new employment paradigm. These moving titles and roles have emerged as a heartfelt response to the seismic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on where, when and how people work. Companies try to paint an attractive image for current and potential employees, apparently saying: Come work here, we care for your heart.
“With the rise of the remote/hybrid model, we believe the role of the HR manager must evolve to meet the needs and expectations of employees,” said Nilesh Thakker, global head of talent at Zinnov, a 20-year-old executive. consulting company, told me. “What’s in a name – or, in this case, a title? Is it a reflection of a business need or a changing era, where the alignment of purpose, of relatability and outcome are all encompassed in one title, whether it’s principal officer enthusiasm or chief officer wonder?” He gave the example of how the “remote director emerged to help companies navigate the transition to hybrid working and working from home, saying that “roles like this will become a key part of organizational design.”
Silver is positioning his role as head of the cardiac department as essential as the dynamic between working from home and returning to the office continues to play out. In an interview with Emotional Intelligence Magazine last year, she said, “We really listened to our employees to see what worked best for them, because ultimately working from home worked. We had two wonderful, incredible experiences. years, and we have managed to reconcile patience and ambition.” She added: “Kindness is the most important role, and then I think if you take the word empathy, which is emotion, kindness and compassion in stocks are, that’s how you show you care.” To hear Silver tell it, the pandemic has practically required companies to show more heart.
Thakker attributed the increase in these new titles to the changing expectations of a new generation entering the workforce. “With businesses becoming totally remote and the continued increase in generational diversity in an organization with the influx of Gen Z into the workforce, the need for hyper-personalization will only increase,” I said. he said. “Roles such as remote directors will be key to ensuring a cohesive and consistent remote/hybrid and in-person experience as the war for talent will continue to rise and fall in different economic cycles.” In some ways, the tricky new roles are a Gen Z version of the age-old — but still common — “we’re like family here” philosophy.
The real heart breaker
But family associations and emotive titles can have a darker side. The family structure presupposes a level of intimacy, loyalty, and protection that would be odd in the workplace, especially given the power imbalances that exist between the people who do the work and those who can fire them. The family is permanent; the job is not. By trying to adopt this more personal language for C-suite titles, some companies try to get employees to ignore the cold reality of this fact – and create an environment in which employees are expected to extend their total loyalty to the company when the company does not. ‘t give the same kind of commitment in return.
Trying to turn a business into a family, a meeting of hearts, or a series of tests of loyalty is likely to result in a minefield – a world of pain. Families, after all, can also be incredibly dysfunctional. Many workers have found out the hard way that cranky family language is just an attempt to excuse dysfunction, inappropriate feedback, and potential harm to employees. Do you really want your personal relationships, lifestyle choices, and whether you’ve gained or lost weight discussed at work?
Making a business look like anything other than a business can be confusing, and titles and management styles that emphasize a home environment can make some employees feel disgusted; not everyone is comfortable sharing their feelings with their boss and co-workers. Titles like Chief Heart Officer—and arguably even the term “corporate culture,” not to mention phrases like “working spouse”—feed this emotional ambiguity.
Business is always business. Human titles – however admirable and adaptive to the changing times – must never hide the fact that sometimes it is the one responsible for the heart that ends up breaking your heart, by firing you.
Drew Limsky has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Metropolis, Robb Report, and Architectural Digest.