What’s there in a Designation?

Written by Alekhya Talapatra on April 17th, 2009

There’s one of those popular Shakespearean saying, ‘What’s there in a name?’ I have no reasons to disagree with this, but if someone were to talk of ‘What’s there in a designation?’ I can cry hoarse to evangelize that there’s a hell lot in it.

It may sound strange, but to me, designations are like toilets. You are relieved when you find one on the way. In the recent past, if one were to look at it, designations have emerged as one of the imperatives in professional as well as social life – you are damned if you don’t have one to tom-tom about. Without one of those fancy ones on your name card, you are swathed by a feeling of extreme discomfort. It’s like working endlessly in the corporate jungle without being rewarded for it, something akin to traveling on a highway with nature’s expanse on either side but not a single ‘loo’ in sight.


Designations are like those magic words – abracadabra, hocus-pocus, open sesame, hey presto etc., that open the doors for you. They are important indeed. You sometimes have to throw your designation around to get an appointment with your customer. It makes one gain certain social status which at times may be incomplete contrast to the professional status. With a long and checkered history of subjugation and a middle-class mentality, designations become social pillars people wish to climb on.


Architectural and civil design of houses, or the lack of it, some twenty-thirty years back had relegated bathrooms to a corner or for that matter outside the house in some cases owing to sanitary inefficiencies. However, with the advent of modern architecture, bathrooms have assumed a social status. You can judge the financial status of a man by a sheer glance at the kind of bath fittings he has in there. Gold-plated fittings et al have elevated bathrooms to become the central focus of a modern apartment. Today career and status is built around what you have on your name cards – a heavy designation. Much like modern nuclear family apartments are being built around washrooms.  In fact, we now have one attached to every room. The evolution of both designations as well as toilets has been more or less similar – improvements were few and far till the ‘80s – and then the packaging of both improved at a galloping rate. Just like we have multiple designations for the same responsibility in professional life, we know toilets with a variety of names. Sometimes these terminologies can be misleading. Let’s take a dig at the modern day designations and how they compare with a particular version of toilet.


Director is quite an important decision-making designation that professionals swear by. To some, it means the epitome of corporate success. You feel good – much like visiting the Rest Room at five star hotels. In many cases, this designation is just a social symbol for the external world to acknowledge while the corporate realities may be quite different. The internal system may not have elevated the person to full-fledged directorial responsibilities yet. Again, this is similar to Rest Rooms – can you take a nap there?  There is an innate contradiction between the reality and literal meaning of the nomenclature.


The next in line is the AVP or the Assistant Vice President. The Vice President in true sense of the world is President’s assistant, so why does one need an assistant’s assistant. Any which ways, the AVP designation can be compared to the ‘Cloak Rooms’ with no powder or often with no shower as well, unless you mistake the new fitting – the health faucet besides the commode, as one. AVP does not have the decision-making power of a VP but has all the snobbishness associated with the designation. It is a neat package sans the actual benefits though.


Another designation that comes to my mind is that of the Country Manager. This one sound like the guy is managing the entire country on his own and has a cabinet of ministers attending his court regularly. This is similar to washrooms – cramped and busy – we have too many country managers in our country. There is no semblance of ‘wash’ in these washrooms. In fact, a single MNC can have many country managers each handling a product line or a division of their business – all vying for a piece of attention.


The similes can go on. If you are just a manager in the corporate hierarchy, you are more like a Sulabh Souchalaya and a COO sound more like the ‘Gentleman.’ Rather than playing with the semantics and getting lost in it, it will be prudent for all of us to find other pillars and symbols to drool over. With social pressures subsiding over time, organizations may finally understand the reality and dilute the designations. Finally it may boil down to just the name of the individual on the visiting card with a two line description of the job responsibility on its flip side. Just like all toilets can be simply classified as ‘Comfort Rooms’ or ‘Relieving Points’ separated by sexes.



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