Job grading, job profiles and job families

HR Management, Project work Russia & East Europe, Talent Management | 1 comment

I seem to have been involved with job grading, job evaluation, job promotion, whatever you want to call it, on and off for most of my professional life. And it keeps returning!

I was lucky enough to be taught job evaluation at Shell (a version of the Hay Group system) by the HR guru Fons Trompenaars, when he was still working there thirty years ago. I mentioned this when I introduced him at the international HR Conference my team organized earlier this year in Kazakhstan. He obviously went on to be very rich and famous and I…… But we have both stayed in touch!

Although the basis is very clear – it is the job that gets evaluated not the person – nevertheless, I have worked in many technical, information-based companies, and we all know that as a person’s knowledge increases they can actually grow and fulfil the role, the job, at a higher level.

For this reason I have often used, well actually introduced, job profiles or job families into these organisations.

The first time was in the early 90’s within Shell Research in Europe. A decade later the work was extended globally within the Shell Chemicals Technology organization, with interesting cultural challenges including the Americans in the process.

And at the end of last year and beginning of this, the national companies in Kazakhstan introduced job grading for the first time ever. So I decided to do the whole of my own organization, both to train some of my own staff on-the-job so that we could become a centre of expertise within my HR Consultancy group, and also because there were some interesting historical anomalies in the salaries and job titles of people who were working for me! Again, the concept of job profiles or job families has been extremely valuable.

So what are job profiles or job families in respect to promotion within a job on the basis of growing expertise?

To come back to the Hay Group (although there are obviously other systems of job grading that I have also used in companies) they would say ‘a job family describes a number of different roles which are engaged in similar work’. Which is technically correct but maybe not so helpful to the uninitiated. (A thought to which I will return later).

Basically a job family model looks at a type of job and describes how many levels of seniority there are of that job in ways that clearly distinguish and differentiate those levels.

The first one I set up in the 90’s actually had a continuum of 12 different levels – which is unusually large – and covered expertise jobs in research & development. We went all the way in terms of job titles from technician through assistant researchers to the most senior of experts. Each level was described in simple terms looking at such factors as knowledge, qualifications & attributes (impact on industry & creativity for example), working contacts & managerial impact, independence & accountability (scientific & research responsibility for example). In addition we built company values and desired behaviours into the profiles.

With the years this became more refined with specialist job families being developed for technology development, process engineering, product development, technical marketing, HSE, analytical services and even secretaries.

In my Kazakhstan organization we also identified useful job families which describe how individuals can develop and get promoted (and hence get market-related pay) based on what they know and do, rather than how long they have been working with us. We developed profiles for training & development, HR consulting, business planning, outsourcing and accounting, with between three and five levels each.

The advantage I have seen over the years is that job families offer transparency to line managers and job holders in everyday language about the demands of a particular job level. Identifying the main criteria that differentiate each job grade from the next gives an excellent tool on which to base conversations on performance and promotional decisions. They can also be used to discuss potential career paths and aid organizational design. And having a robust job grading system in the first place introduces a quantitative fairness into the comparison of different jobs.

Although the descriptions are in plain and relevant language, each level is obviously fully based on the job evaluation system being used, for example Hay. So they still require real job evaluation work to set them up! But they have the additional organizational advantage that once you have them it is easier to ‘slot’ people into levels rather than have a full job evaluation each time. Obviously jobs that do not fit into such profiles, and there will always be some, including many managerial or leadership roles, can still be graded using the full system.

Finally there is something else that seems to me inherent in job evaluation systems, where the profiles help. Fons talked all those years ago about the job evaluation ritual or rain-dance. For many, job grading is a secret code, a world of understanding from which they are excluded. And yet it affects both their status and pay. Job profiles or families allow much more openness, clarity and understanding. Which in most organisations must be a Good Thing.

1 Comment

  1. Ilyas Yechshanov

    It was great time and great project. By the way, I think job families or job bands more effective. It’s better to understand you career and development within 5 or 6 levels (bands) than when you have descriped each job role with 8-30 grades


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