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Meet the Start-up with 800 staff and zero job titles

Trends in business can be circular

As company cycles appear to be getting shorter, it is interesting to see that one of Silicon Valley’s hottest start-ups is trying to build a structure to last for the long term. The organisation in question is Gusto, a software company for managing payrolls.

Silicon Valley is recognised as a leader in new ways of working and executives who give themselves zeitgeisty titles. Josh Reeves, who is the co-founder and CEO of Gusto, could have given himself any number of imaginative titles, but he chose to give himself an aspirational label which stated that he was building gusto for a long-term stint in payroll management.

Creating and managing companies for sustainable long-term life spans is a hot topic in Silicon Valley right now. Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, stated in a 1997 letter to shareholders that a vital measurement of success would long-term and sustainable value created for the shareholders. It seems that for Reeves there are other things more important to long-term success than the titles of employees working for him. Rather than dwell on titles, he prefers staff to focus on the team that they are part of, such as communications, and let that define their role.

He thinks that while titles are meant to clarify what people do in an organisation, often they do exactly the opposite and just lead to more confusion. Reeves also thinks the status of an employee within the company is more significant as a critical factor in success and that clearly defined levels, and what employees need to achieve to attain them, are important for motivating people.

Those working for Reeves are not encouraged to strive for new titles. Rather, they are given opportunities to work with their manager to plan a career with the company. Gusto staff do not have vague titles; they function at levels within their department, knowing what they need to do to move up to the next level.

Reeves also believes the real test of whether staff are being managed effectively is whether they work well together to achieve goals and bring the company’s mission into reality. Employees should be focusing on doing their work to facilitate team achievements rather than focusing on what they think they need to do to get another promotion.

Reeves also thinks that titles can be an obstacle, as they can be interpreted in different ways, and for some staff they could lead to excessive and unnecessary inflation of the ego, whereas for others the title could be perceived as a slight or a sign that they are not doing well, which could lower morale.

Doing away with titles removes ambiguity, according to Reeves, and means that staff are not distracted by imprecise labels. This is even more significant in a very young company, when roles and objectives are fluid and evolving.

Titles can also be unrealistic and lead to delusions of grandeur – especially in a small organisation. Reeves says that there is no reason why a business that only employs 15 people should ever need a vice-president.

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