Written by Irina Miller, Remuneration and Benefits Manager, Crombie Lockwood
Job Architecture is a way of organising and structuring individual jobs, job families and entire organisations. It often includes levels and individual job descriptions.
In broad terms, Job Architecture has been around for centuries. Let’s take an early day village as an example of an organisation. Most early day (think: medieval) villages, had the same rather simple “design”. In addition to peasants, most had a miller, and a blacksmith – two of the most fundamental functions. Bigger and more diversified villages, may have also had a baker, a butcher, a fishmonger, a stonemason, a tailor, a goldsmith, and so on. Villages belonged to a lord. Lords served a king. A king had an army to protect their lands. By and large, it was a rather simple economy and a rather simple job architecture. Those were simpler times… In fact, so simple that I wouldn’t have any trouble explaining the high level job architecture of a medieval kingdom to my 4 year old.
Fast-forward a few centuries and we now have an overwhelmingly diversified, refined and complicated economy. And as a result of it, complicated and highly diversified jobs. My rather bright teenage child still zones out at me trying (for the 20th time!) to explain to her what I do as a Remuneration and Benefits Manager. My 4-year-old… is convinced I work at a bus station. Fair enough, after all she sees me go there every morning.
A fundamental attempt at defining “Job Architecture” was made during the industrial times – in the mid to late 20th century. Many companies in the 80s-90s had neat hierarchical job classifications, straightforward levelling and consistent titling. Those were also simpler times…
When first clever ERP and HRIS systems emerged, they assumed we could create a “perfect fit” job architecture for every organisation. We could then align our remuneration, HR administration, recruitment, performance management, career progression and development processes to this “perfect” job architecture. Our organisations were meant to be working like well-oiled machines, much like our metaphorical early village.
Currently, all of those neat structures are proving to be too bulky and inflexible. The world is moving too fast for the companies to cope. You may be working for one of those companies that has hundreds and hundreds of catalogued roles… From the time you started your “catalogue” the business has moved and you are now having to create new jobs, on top of old jobs. You still have people in the old jobs, then they move into other jobs, but keep their “system job”, because they have an incentive structure attached to it. Then… you form an agile team. Your people now have jobs in the agile team, as well as in their traditional organisation hierarchy. So you create more jobs in the system. You get the picture. Jobs, jobs, jobs. After a while, you end up with an overblown and meaningless catalogue. By the time you’ve done all the admin your head hurts, and you most definitely don’t have any mental capacity to think about how to support your organisational strategy with the “best fit” job architecture. In fact, you don’t really have a job architecture anymore, you have… a job pile.
Can companies manage without cataloguing their jobs? Possibly. A good levelling methodology can help you establish company-wide remuneration policies and healthy spans of control between roles. It is a good start on the path to efficiency and good organisation design. However, I don’t believe you can rely on levels alone. Levelling wouldn’t have worked for designing our metaphorical early village. While the miller and the blacksmith are the same “level” jobs (and were probably remunerated similarly), it took a lifetime to become one or the other. If we simply plan for two people of this “level”, we may end up having two blacksmiths and no millers. While such design can support an early competition and would certainly boost the supply of ploughs; without any ability to turn grains into flour, our village would have struggled to survive a year.
We, therefore, need a mechanism beyond levelling to differentiate our millers from our blacksmiths; a framework to manage not just their remuneration, but also their performance and skill attainment in a targeted and meaningful way.
So what’s the answer? Possibly, it is in a combination of strong levelling and pragmatic number of jobs. Possibly, you need to view your jobs as Lego pieces. When strategy changes, you can assemble, disassemble or quickly change the entire organisational structure. Possibly, we should flip job architecture on its head and use skills, rather than jobs, as building blocks. In any case, simplicity and alignment to strategy are key. And even more important is crafting a captivating story around your job architecture. This is something our profession often overlooks. I believe that you need to think and talk about your organisation as of a metaphoric village/country/community, where differences between roles (or skills?) are clear and their purpose is well-understood by everyone.
Please join us on our Job Architecture SIG on 21 March, to share your thoughts and hear from field expert, this will be held at Strategic Pay 11am – 12pm. To register to attend please click here>