I thought it was an anomaly when, more than ten years ago, my boss, who was the CEO, insisted on calling me “Head of Enthusiasm.”
His optimistic expression certainly fit the bill. His belief that everything would work out was unwavering, whether he was having a gleeful affair with the head of the company’s public relations agency (and constantly posting about their home-cooked meals) or hiring “creatives” one after another. geniuses” who were to enter as the savior of the company. (Each of them inevitably failed the task.) His title and cordiality were no doubt intended to make the workplace more familiar and friendly, but in practice his kind of happiness made many people distrustful and unhappy – not all of them wanted to float on their cloud of magical thinking.
Despite this cool response, my former boss may have just been ahead of the curve with that bold title. Today, crazy C-suite titles are all the rage. There are directors of amazement, directors of heart, and directors of empathy in companies. In a 2020-2021 analysis, LinkedIn researchers found 51 variations of titles beginning with “boss.” They’ve also found that titles such as Director of Personnel and Director of Happiness are gaining in popularity.
Popular as they may be, feeling-focused job titles do little more than try to hide the core part of the job: its transactional nature. Your company may act more compassionately because it hired a chief heart officer, but at the end of the day it’s still a business, and that person can still fire you.
What does the Chief Amazement Officer do?
Shep Hyken is the Director of Amazement at Shepard Presentations, a public speaking company he founded in 1983. For decades, he has shaped an identity as a customer service speaker and author, helping companies build relationships with customers and employees. Hyken began using his current title at least 10 years ago, moving from the simplicity of “speaker and author”.
Since then, he has cultivated a kind of “amazing” cottage industry, writing five books with titles such as “Amazing every customer every time” and “Amazing revolution.” At the heart of his brand is the idea that service should be so responsive that it amazes customers. For example, The Amazement Revolution encourages readers to treat customers as “members” and “partners” who share joyful experiences.
Rocket Central, a Detroit-based professional services firm, also has a director of amazement, Mike Malloy, who runs “The Pulse,” or what most companies call human resources. Malloy performs the same duties as the traditional head of HR, but his role is designed to better reflect the company’s culture. As Malloy said in a blog post by HR software company Workhuman, culture is the “North Star”, adding that at Rocket Central “everything is based on our culture.”
Amazement isn’t the only new person in the office. If you thought home was where the heart was, think again because the workplace now has a heart boss. Outsource Accelerator, a blog dedicated to outsourcing work, describes the role as “responsible for the well-being and overall enjoyment of the company’s staff.” Sometimes the chief heart officer exists in addition to the head of human resources, and this role is increasingly being called, more humanistically, the chief human resources officer. So what does it take to be an effective heart boss? Feelings, of course. Claude Silver, director of heart at VaynerMedia and self-proclaimed “first director of heart,” told Forbes in 2017 that she was “here to serve” her staff. She added: “I live my purpose. It’s not a job for me.”
While some of these titles have been around for years, there has been a sharp increase in “felt” positions since the pandemic. This is especially true for the consulting and management company Deloitte. In 2020, he hired a director of goals to help define the company’s purpose and help employees understand their own purpose to prevent burnout. Last year, he changed the name of his CEO to Chief Empathy Officer.
“It’s critical for companies to hire and develop more effective managers and leaders,” the company said in its CEO rebranding webinar invitation, adding, “It requires going beyond traditional management development strategies and cultivating the skills that are critical to success. In recent years, especially during the pandemic, one of those skills has been empathy, an essential leadership skill.”
So what is behind this wave of job titles focused on feelings?
What’s in the name
Even if the titles seem awkward or ridiculous, in many cases they reflect a company’s sincere attempt to grapple with a new employment paradigm. These emotional titles and roles came as an honest response to the seismic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on where, when and how people work. Companies try to paint an attractive picture for current and future employees, seemingly saying: Come to work with us, we will take care of your heart.
“With the development of the remote/hybrid model, we believe that the role of the HR leader should evolve to meet the needs and expectations of employees,” Nilesh Thakker, Zinnov’s global head of talent, a 20-year-old consulting firm manager, told me. “What’s in the name – or in this case, the title? Is it a reflection of a business need or is it a reflection of the changing times where purpose alignment, relativity and outcome are all embodied in the title, whether it’s the chief enthusiasm officer or the chief amazement officer?” He gave an example of how a “remote director” has emerged to help companies manage the transition to hybrid work and work from home, saying that “roles like this will become a key part of organizational design.”
Silver believes her role as heart director is so significant because the dynamic between working from home and back to the office continues. In an interview with Emotional Intelligence Magazine last year, she said: “We really listened to our people to see what was best for them because ultimately working from home worked. We’ve had two great, amazing years and managed to balance patience and ambition.” She added: “Kindness is the most important role, and then I think if you take the word empathy which is an emotion, kindness and compassion are its actions, that’s how you show that you care.” To hear Silver say it, the pandemic almost required companies to show more heart.
Thakker attributed the growth of these cutting-edge titles to the changing expectations of a new generation entering the workforce. “With companies moving fully to remote and the continued increase in generational diversity within the organization with the influx of Generation Z into the workforce, the need for hyperpersonalization will only grow,” he told me. “Roles such as remote directors will be critical to ensuring a consistent and unified remote/hybrid and in-person experience as the war for talent continues to ebb and flow across business cycles.” In some ways, the new, touchy roles are a version of the age-old – but still common – “we’re like a family here” in Gen Z.
A real heartbreaker
But both family associations and emotional titles can have a dark side. The family structure implies a level of intimacy, loyalty and caring that would be strange in the workplace, especially given the power imbalance that exists between the people who do the work and the people who might fire them. The family is constant; employment is not. By attempting to adopt this more personal language in executive titles, some companies are trying to get employees to ignore the cold reality of this fact—and create an environment where employees are expected to be totally loyal to the company while the company does not give the same kind of obligations.
Trying to turn a business into a family, a meeting of hearts, or a series of tests of loyalty will likely end up in a minefield – a world of pain. After all, families can be incredibly dysfunctional too. Many employees found out the hard way that foul family language was simply an attempt to justify dysfunction, inappropriate comments and potential employee harm. Do you really want your personal relationships, life choices, and whether you gained or lost weight to be discussed at work?
Making a company look like something other than a company can be a recipe for confusion, and titles and management styles that emphasize a family atmosphere can make some employees vulnerable; not everyone feels comfortable sharing their feelings with their boss and co-workers. Titles like chief of heart — and possibly even the term “corporate culture,” not to mention phrases like “spouse at work” — contribute to this emotional ambiguity.
Business is still business. Humanitarian titles – however admirable and responsive to changing times – should never obscure the fact that sometimes it’s the chief officer of the heart who finally breaks Your heart, releasing you.
Drew Limsky has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Metropolis, Robb Report and Architectural Digest.