The Focused Manager
Abstract stylized drawing of people and arrows
Design Your Career
How to deconstruct a job title into work roles
By Brian Walch

hat do you do?

How many times a week have you answered that question? How do you answer it? Is it usually something like, “I’m a [insert job title].”

Job titles carry a lot of significance in our culture.

In an episode of the sitcom Cheers, the bartender Woody wants more pay. He marches into his boss Rebecca’s office to demand a raise. He comes out smiling and announces he is now the Senior Bartender. His coworker Sam is upset, so he marches into her office to demand a raise, too. He comes out with the title Executive Supervising Bartender.

Both left their meeting feeling victorious, but their situation hadn’t changed. Neither got a raise, and their job duties hadn’t changed. All they got was a new title.

Although that’s TV, art imitates life. We attach significant value and meaning to our job titles.

Your résumé lists a series of titles that describe your career path. If you’re looking to advance in your career, you usually start by identifying a handful of titles you would be interested in pursuing.

Human Resource (HR) departments define compensation by title, and it is an easy way to place positions relative to each other and denote power. Job titles can be used to communicate the structure of a company to its customers and partners.

Your job duties are encapsulated with a single title. But that label doesn’t begin to express the complexity of your work. It is an insufficient simplification. That doesn’t stop us from internalizing the label and making unproductive generalizations about our job satisfaction, performance, and opportunities.

For several years, I had the title of HR Director. There were parts of the job I loved. I enjoyed getting to know employees, working on initiatives to help the company, listening to and responding to employee feedback, and helping others build rewarding careers.

But I got worn down by the politics, and the administrative components were a chore. I wanted to have a bigger impact.

I became dissatisfied and unfulfilled. I thought, “I don’t like being HR Director.” All my feelings about the job were lumped into the job title, even though I was only unhappy with a small portion of the work I did. I ended up leaving the position.

The job title had no value in helping me shape a more rewarding, challenging, and fulfilling job. Since that time, I’ve learned there’s a different way to think about this, one that is more useful to personal and professional development.

Job titles aren’t going away anytime soon, nor should they. They have a place. But when it comes to making meaningful changes, they aren’t useful.
A New Mindset
Maybe you’re thinking about making a change or wondering what’s next for your career. Do you want to have more contentment and meaning at work? Are you looking to be more ambitious and take on bigger challenges? Are you ready to design the career you want?

If so, ignore the job title! Instead, deconstruct your work into roles.

A “role” is a part you play at some point during the day or week. You have many roles at work, more than you think. The following exercise will help you identify and create a list of these roles. With this list, you can begin making productive changes in your career.

Before jumping in, make sure you have space to reflect on your work life. This exercise is more like mining exploration than an assembly line. It will take multiple passes to get beneath the surface and consider all the facets of your work.

You will also want a way to record the list of roles and other thoughts you have. Any method works, but I prefer using an Excel spreadsheet because it is simple, flexible, and easily supports adding additional attributes.

Start Exploring
  1. First, start with broad strokes. What high-level roles are included in your work? What are your major areas of responsibility?
  2. Second, review your job description. What roles are listed in it?
  3. Third, what is your role in relation to other employees? Who is dependent on you? What do they need from you? Who are you dependent on and for what?
  4. Fourth, identify your performance metrics. What roles do those describe?
  5. Fifth, list tasks by category. Administrative tasks, personnel tasks, strategy-related responsibilities, and short-term and long-term objectives. Some of your roles will describe a task you are responsible for, such as “monthly budget report creator” or “monthly meeting facilitator.”
  6. Sixth, think about your work using Mintzberg’s Management Roles. These are interpersonal roles (figurehead, leader, and liaison), informational roles (monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson), and decisional roles (entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator).
  7. Lastly, get creative. What hasn’t been covered? What would your boss add to the list? What would your peers add to the list?

Don’t worry if you bounce around a bit between these approaches and revisit them multiple times. The goal is to look at your job from different perspectives and unearth all the roles you have. When done, you should have a relatively complete list that describes the diverse work you do.

Your job duties are encapsulated with a single title. But that label doesn’t begin to express the complexity of your work.
Use Roles to Make Meaningful Changes
Now that you’ve completed the first step—exploration and data collection—you can move to analysis and extraction. Your goal here is to analyze the list of roles you created and extract insights to help you make decisions about your work and career.

When I work with clients on this, I have them rank each role on a scale of one to ten using a couple of criteria. Which criteria we use depends on their objectives. Here are suggestions for criteria you can use to conduct your own ranking exercise.

  • If you’re feeling discouraged at work, rate each role based on how energizing the role is to you and how important the role is. Reviewing the results will show you which roles you should invest more into and which roles you should get rid of.
  • If you’re trying to find more time in your day, rate each role based on how much time it takes and how much value it provides. Roles that take a lot of time and are low value should be eliminated. Ones that take a lot of time but are of high value are candidates for automation.
  • If you want to scale your position and grow the team, rate your roles by their ability to be delegated and the level of effort to delegate. Then use that to make a plan for you and your team.
  • If you’re looking for career advancement, rate your roles by challenge and impact. Roles that are high impact and low challenge represent areas where you are competent and valuable. There may be an opportunity for innovation and leadership. If you notice a theme of low challenge across many of your roles, it is time for a discussion with your boss about reassigning roles and taking on a stretch assignment.

As a manager, it is important that you do this exercise for yourself, first. Then, introduce it to your team members and give them some space to work on it. Schedule time to discuss their results and the insights they take away from thinking in roles. It should yield great conversations that propel you, the team, and your organization forward.

Grow Beyond the Title
Job titles aren’t going away anytime soon, nor should they. They have a place. But when it comes to making meaningful changes, they aren’t useful. They are static, broad, and generic.

Sam and Woody got sucked into chasing job titles, but you don’t have to. Meaningful changes start from within. You are always changing, as is your work. Career development is a dynamic process that requires you to be active and engaged. Use roles to define your work and manage what you want for your career. That is how you design a career that is rewarding and fulfilling to you.

Brian Walch
Brian Walch is an executive coach, consultant, and speaker on leadership development. He uses his extensive experience in people and systems to provide tools and services to empower managers to lead themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Learn more at