Why You Should Give Staff Any Job They Want

Mandy Farmer set out to build a distinctive culture at her boutique hotel chain. Step one: letting employees pick their own titles

Written by Alexandra Bosanac

One of the most touted benefits of a flat hierarchy is that it encourages employees to bring their whole selves to work. Interested in being more flat but don’t want to go all in?

One simple way to mimic this practice of Silicon Valley startups without sacrificing organizational structure is to allow your staff to come up with their own titles.

That’s the approach Mandy Farmer, president and chief executive of Hotel Zed, a chain of quirky hotels in Victoria, B.C. has been taking. If Farmer ever hands you a business card, you’ll notice “President and CEO” is crossed out, replaced by “rebel and bike lover.”

It would be inaccurate to label Hotel Zed as a totally flat organization. Division of labour still exists, explains Farmer, but titles operate on a two-tier system. On their badges, an employee’s official designation is crossed out, but still legible to guests.

It’s a safeguard against confusion, although Farmer argues that there’s wouldn’t really be cause for misunderstanding even if the conventional title wasn’t there. “You don’t really need to see on their name tag that [the] person is the front desk clerk, or a housekeeper,” she points out. “You kind of know.”

Farmer’s family owns and operates Accent Inns, a chain of hotels dotted across the province. But in 2014, Farmer—who took the #26 spot on the 2015 PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 Ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs—spearheaded a new spin-off, which she named Hotel Zed. She has plans to open a second location in Kelowna, B.C. this summer.

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The hotels project a strong 1950s-kitsch vibe. After purchasing and restoring mid-century motels, Farmer went to town painting the rooms in fluorescent colours and adding retro touches to the suites—record players and typewriters abound, and each guest gets their very own stash of comic books. Hotel Zed’s titles policy fits the offbeat vibe it’s owner is trying to cultivate. “It really sets the tone of our brand,” says Farmer.

The name system is also a canny tool that has leads to better interactions between staff and clientele. “If let’s say a person in front of you is a €˜micro-brewery aficionado,’ you know that they’re going to know the best pubs in town,” says Farmer. “What’s awesome is that suddenly you know a little more about that person and that’s what sparks authenticity in conversations.”

She’s found that the added personal touch also helps with retention amongst lower-rung employees. “You may not like the title housekeeper or payroll or clerk, and it allows you to be what you want to be,” says Farmer. “If you want to put €˜superhero’ down, you put it down.”

MORE BENEFITS: Why You Should Let Staff Choose Their Own Titles »

But in order for Farmer’s system to work well for another company, it’s important to live up to your values and makes sure yours is truly an enjoyable place to work. Otherwise, employees might start to feel like they’re stuck in Chotckie’s, the fictional restaurant in the 1999 movie Office Space that reprimanded servers if they didn’t wear exactly 37 pieces of “flair,” oversized buttons printed with groan-worthy puns.

At Hotel Zed, those values are “that everyone’s opinion matters and it doesn’t matter if you’re a night auditor or the marketing manager,” says Farmer. “We’re all equals in this company.”

And no, the titles aren’t mandatory. No employee will ever be assigned one, because the title they wear has to be personally meaningful to them. “I want them to feel good about the company they work for and [that] this company wants to celebrate who they are,” says Farmer. “If it’s enforced you’ll show up in an inauthentic way, and that affects how you come into work.”


Would a choose-your-own-title strategy work for your business? What unconventional things do you do to engage employees? Let us know by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com