Organisational Design: from activity model to jobs and job holders

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Traditional human resource management is concerned with the administration of people in jobs.  ‘Commitment’ HR builds on this asking “what people management practices need to be implemented to gain the necessary commitment to optimise business outcomes”.

But both commitment HR and the traditional ‘compliance’ HR make one fundamental assumption – that the firm, department or job exists.  From either standpoint it is then just a question of what to do to achieve legal compliance and optimised staff engagement.

Of course, those with a fuller understanding of human resource management would argue that it is job design that is used to build the HR foundation.  That’s true but all too often job design is based on job analysis – analysis of something that exists.  This is evidenced by the emphasis in job analysis of the subject matter expert (SME) – someone who is expert in the job in question or in such jobs in general.  For both job analysis, something must exist to start the activities off.

But what if a firm doesn’t exist?  Or if firms are to be merged?  Or there is doubt that what exists is in any way optimum for the objectives set?

In these cases there’s little or nothing to work with and a new approach is essential.  We need to find a method of building the jobs in a firm or other organisation that can start from a blank canvas.

The Firm as Blank Canvas

So what do we know as we look at the blank canvas?  We know why the firm exists.  We know what the stakeholders want from it.  And hence we know something about the strategy and the way in which the strategy is to be met.  We know for example how a spectrum management organisation – that is, an organisation that administers the frequencies that mobile phone companies and others use –  is to be run.  We know the degree of automation (because that will be part of the strategy).  And we know something about the skills and knowledge needed in the staff.  Ofcom, the UK’s frequency administration,  is a case in point.  Its spectrum management activity was to be highly automated with a minimum of staff containing a minimum of highly paid experts following Ofcom’s inception in 2003 from the merger of five separate organisations.

And we know the outcome we want in such a scenario – we need a fistful of job descriptions and person specifications to kick off assessment of existing staff and recruitment of new.  But how do we move from strategy to job descriptions?

The answer lies in modelling.

Modelling: a definition

A model in this case is an expression of what is to be.  There is no need for knowledge of what exists, only a knowledge of the functions or competencies needed to meet the strategy.  And yes, modelling needs a subject matter expert too, but not a diehard who’s been there and done it all.  It needs someone sufficiently knowledgeable to understand either function or competency needed to excel at the various activities.

Modelling can be done using competencies or functions.  Competency modelling fits some scenarios whilst function modelling is better for others.  Often function modelling (or activity modelling) is best when least is known.  Competency modelling can then follow.

Let’s concentrate on activity modelling.  The fixed link licensing department exists within a spectrum management organisation (in Ofcom for example) to do one simple task – to convert licence applications into licences and fee bills.  There is nothing else.  But the activity is hugely complex involving high levels of computer analysis undertaken by graduate-level engineers.  It has aspects of policy development and of more straightforward administration.  And it involves finance and international coordination.  So we can draw a simple abstracted model at the department level and a complex multi-level model to elaborate to the function or singular activity level.  We can express the whole department as an entity that if implemented, will meet the objectives and expectations of stakeholders.

And most importantly, we can express the various interfaces both within the department and out to and in from the outside world.  Each activity becomes a role and each role needs competencies.  And job-holders play these roles.  And so we can make the jump from activity or function to accountabilities on a job description. Given singular activities and roles, we can construct and reconstruct jobs at will to optimise efficiency and effectiveness.

Organisational Design: from activity model to jobs and job holders

So what can we conclude?  Human resource management too often assumes that the firm, department and roles already exist.  When nothing exists or when there is cause to question what does exists, we need a technique for synthesis, not analysis.  Modelling gives us this and there are many methods of modelling.

An HR consultant skilled in modelling can work systematically from a blank canvas to a synthesised firm and then optimise the model from the people viewpoint.  The systems that people will run are represented by subject matter experts.  From there they can develop the job descriptions and person profiles to assure effective assessment and selection of staff to fill the roles so designed.

If you’d like to know more about the methods discussed in this blog and how they might be applied to your firm, call TimelessTime for a no-obligation discussion.

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