Working from home seems here to stay even in the post-vaccine normal, perhaps not necessarily for all. The knowledge business, tech support, and staff services (except Finance which still needs to prepare and sign checks) may well work from home, at least partially. Even psychiatrists can diagnose depression and loneliness online.
In this work setting, is there still a need to identify function and rank? Is the calling card necessary in a digital culture, as companies and jobs become more ambiguous? (Can you just give me your mobile number?)
The calling card, previously referred to as a visiting card, was part of 18th century Europe’s social formality for visiting neighbors. These cards with name and address are left behind to indicate a wish to drop in sometime soon.
The evolved calling card, now mostly for corporate use, has no standard size or format, except that it should fit into a wallet or case and became part of business paraphernalia, like the mobile phone. It also projects with its paper stock, layout, logo, and business address the profile of the corporation.
Even before the pandemic, quickly evolving titles and the devaluation of traditional ranks (Extremely Important Vice-President) in companies have made the calling card unreliable as a form of introduction and status.
There are positions with no precise job descriptions or measurable goals. We note a rise in a tribal nomenclature, with the preferred title leaning towards “chiefs,” as in Chief Risk Officer — does he control risk or create it? The “chief” title does not indicate rank or any other job details.
A chief is included in senior-level meetings. He gets to pop unexpected questions — what about the reputational risk of your proposal? Should the Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) waste doughnuts on a chief in charge of risk?
Is it possible to go through corporate life without needing to show a calling card that carries a job title or rank? What does the non-card bearing careerist need to do?
Now, with virtual meetings becoming the norm, designations which a calling card defines (sort of) have become confusing, if not irrelevant. The online meetings are either corporate routine (board of directors) or task-based, like determining how many stores in a fast food chain to close, temporarily or for good. Such task-based decision-making involves functions like supply chain management, marketing, and finance.
Ranks that are enshrined in calling cards become immaterial in a task force. Anyway, the bottom line in such decision-making results in less people needing cards anyway.
And what happens when a new management takes over? The new CEO may be a familiar face from some long-ago conference or webinar (a newfangled way of imparting knowledge and hunting for a new job). But bumping into the newly installed leader at a coffee break for some off-site team-building exercise (socially distanced and all that) may invite curiosity — hey, Buddy, do you work here? What do you do? You hand out a calling card that by now is a few days obsolete.
When a consultant is brought in to review an organization, he may wonder about the large number of chiefs. (Do they send out smoke signals?) In the ensuing interview of key executives for the climate survey (usually not virtual but face-to-face, with masks), few are even aware there was a calling card for the Chief for “golden opportunities.” He used to be designated Chief Risk Officer.
Dispensing with calling cards removes the need to search for an appropriate title for an undefined function like adviser to the CEO. Of course, there are some icons sitting in the board or popping up as consultants who are not expected to have calling cards. What they hand out are pink slips.
Personal achievements, preferably captured in one declarative sentence, are still the best calling cards. Like the American President who sent a man to the moon. More modest achievements can still serve as “calling cards.” (I introduced socially distanced queuing for the ATM.)
Being empty-handed when meeting clients can be embarrassing though. When you hover over a CEO, he may ask you for café latte’ and a chocolate chip cookie. You can then give him an old calling card, call a waiter, and take your seat. There’s no need for an introduction… or a next meeting.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda