What's in a name? World Bank staff to get new job titles

Staff listens to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim as he addresses the audience at the bank’s headquarters in New Delhi, India. The bank has introduced a new naming scheme to help create some consistency and harmonization across institutions, offices and employee grade levels of the financial institution. Photo by: Graham Crouch / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

What’s the difference between a senior lead specialist, and between a senior principal specialist and a senior chief technical specialist? Employees and clients of the World Bank will likely soon have to figure that out.

As the Washington, D.C.-based institution moves forward with broad changes intended to streamline its bureaucracy, it’s also making a similar effort on staff titles. The nomenclature for employees won’t necessarily be shorter than the old titles or make much sense to outsiders, but reform advocates argue they will help the bank create some consistency and harmonization across institutions, offices and employee grade levels, according to a memo to staff from the human resources vice presidency obtained by Devex.

The update sent last week pointed out that there are currently over 3,000 titles in use at the World Bank Group — roughly one for every five employees — and that many of those titles have been introduced “with no real governance or jurisdiction around their use.”

“Most importantly, titles have grown organically without necessarily reflecting, uniformly, the skillset of the title holders,” according to the memo.

To address this problem, the human resources vice presidency has proposed a new “titling framework” intended to reflect promotion and career progression as well as establish consistent titles across the whole World Bank Group.

The World Bank’s new naming scheme. Click here to view a larger version.

New job titles to reflect promotion

An important part of the new naming scheme is that it will reflect “within-grade progression,” which is being introduced in certain parts of the bank.

Promotion within a grade will involve a title change, reflecting an employee’s mastery of a certain skill set, but not a change in grade. The grades are the more formal structure for organizing employees by increasing levels of responsibility, requirements, and pay.

For instance, the International Finance Corp. already has in place a system of in-grade promotion. Under the proposed new system, employees will be labeled with one of ten titles, depending on their grade: associate, analyst, economist, specialist, officer, lead, principal, manager, chief specialist, advisor, and director. When an employee is promoted within his/her grade, “senior” is added in front of the title.

Although it sounds straightforward enough, the changes have generated a lot of chatter from staff as the bank seeks their feedback on the new framework.

One sore point is the use of “lead” and “principal,” which have had various meanings over time and, in fact, have been used to convey the reverse relationship with regard to seniority. One of the guiding principles (not principals) of the proposal is that “any new framework adopted should avoid title ‘downgrades’ to the extent possible.”

Other issues

Another concern among staff has been how well the new titles would be understood by the bank’s clients.

Human resources personnel consulted by Devex pointed out that bank clients come from both the public and private sectors, so trying align titles to other banks, government institutions, or even other international financial institutions will be difficult. The new framework is meant for internal use, and bank staff will still be allowed to use a different external title on business cards, if approved by their superior.

Still, many employees use their internal titles with clients, and bank staff commenting on the new framework also worried about how easily the new titles could be translated into other languages.

The bank is currently consulting with its employees on the proposed new system for assigning titles, which has not been finalized. Staff have until May 28 to submit comments on the new framework.

Once the system is finalized, implementation will be phased across different sections of the bank, starting with the three joint vice presidential units of the World Bank Group and the new “global practices.”

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Paul Stephens

    Paul Stephens is a former Devex staff writer based in Washington, D.C. As a multimedia journalist, editor and producer, Paul has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, CBS Evening News, GlobalPost, and the United Nations magazine, among other outlets. He's won a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a 5-month, in-depth reporting project in Yemen after two stints in Georgia: one as a Peace Corps volunteer and another as a communications coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.