overview

5 tips for designing an agile job framework

What does an agile job framework look like? I have been pondering this question for a year, and thus far I have been unable to come up with a single full proof answer. In fact it might be paradoxical to try to make something as robust as a job framework more agile. This starts to become even more complicated when we start to take into account the remuneration system.
Date
19 March 2020
Author
Minke Buizer
Share

Perhaps the added value of a job framework is that it remains upright even in times of stress or reorganization. Therefore I prefer to speak of a job framework suited to an agile organization. A framework that is transparent, simple, easy to adapt and tailored to the wishes of the employees of the organization.

Let’s get this out of the way first: The trend of having one generic function for everyone is not necessarily Agile. Conversely, having employees craft their own job descriptions is also undesirable, as this results in plethora of different job descriptions. The first option sounds simple, while the second appears to attribute ownership. However, how will you be able to find the person you need when you are looking for specific knowledge or expertise?

In other words, there is no single ideal solution and there never will be. Rather, what is required is a job structure that is suited to an agile organization. Because every agile organization will at some stage of its agile development run into limits imposed by her (old) robust framework. When that time comes it is vital to put people first rather than allowing yourself to be led by the existing (outdated) HR-system. The goal must be to develop a job framework that is future proof and can accommodate new functions and competitive remuneration.

 

Prerequisites for an agile job framework

How can you build a job framework suitable to an agile organization? Below I will provide 5 tips based on my own experiences as well as conversations with other HR professionals. Before I do so, however, I will explore some prerequisites that should be in place before you start on your new framework.

Prerequisite 1: Start by determining what the value of the job framework is for your organization

Don’t go looking for the perfect model. First of all it doesn’t exist. Secondly, it is preferable to listen to the wishes of your employees, rather than to stick rigidly to a model. Thus you need to ensure that the conversations about renewing your framework are the right ones.

Get yourself off to a good start by asking the most important question: What would make a job framework valuable to your organization?

Common answers to this question are:

  • If it helps to offer structure and clarity
  • If it can serve as the basis for remuneration
  • If managers can use it to communicate with an entire job group in a simple way
  • If it helps to create transparency
  • If it can help to distinguish between people
  • If it can serve as a starting point for development and career growth paths

This list clearly shows the Achilles heel of the job framework. It needs to be all things to all people. On top of this everyone values these things in different ways. My advice is collectively determine what your organization values most in a job framework. Don’t worry this doesn’t necessarily require days spent off site. Keep it small and light by asking this one simple question: What makes a job framework valuable to you?

Prerequisite 2: Co-determine the starting point for the conversation with employees and the works council

By creating a joint starting point you determine what is important to your organization now and in the future. Examples of such starting points include:

  • Transparency
  • Future Proof
  • Co-created with all colleagues

 

Getting started with an agile job framework

The tips below will help you develop a job framework that is suitable for an organization that is living the agile values and principles. If your organizations is in this position it will be easier to develop an agile job framework than if your organization has not yet fully embraced Agile.

Tip 1: Use your organization’s vision and core values to develop a starting point

It is important that the job framework is tailored to your organization, i.e. your core values. What does that mean exactly? Let’s assume for a minute transparency is a core value of your organization. Your job framework should then also reflect this core value in all things, including remuneration. This core value should not only apply to the framework itself, but also to the framework development process. In this case it would mean including and informing employees in every step of the framework’s development, having regular review sessions, and using employee feedback to improve both the framework and development process.

A job framework that is basically good, but unsuitable to the organization, is the wrong framework. Start with your core values, and derive the framework from there.

Tip 2: Check your starting point against the agile values and principles

There are a number of values to take into consideration when developing a job description framework. For example, the new framework should enhance agility. If customers demand new services, you should be able to deliver quickly. If delivering this new service requires creating new job functions by wading through a procedural swamp, you are setting yourself up to be unnecessarily slow (and quite possibly lose to the competition). The same applies to job functions that are no longer required. These should be easy to remove, otherwise they will only cause unnecessary clutter (waste). An agile organization needs an agile workforce. Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean firing people, instead it should be easy to switch employees to new (types of) work. If your organization’s job framework and the agile values are not in line, you may first need to ensure your organization has adopted the agile mindset.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools is another critical Agile value. At its core, Agile is about people. What do your people need to feel good at work? What helps them to do their best work every day? A rigid job framework, that offers no space for individual wishes and personal growth, constrains your people in their development. Employees are often hesitant to pick up cross-departmental work when job descriptions have been worked out in great detail. In such a situation, working in a cross-functional team is commonly seen as extra work. Work that is added to their pre-existing work. While the pre-existing work is work the employee is judged on in his/her performance review (because that is what is in their job description). To stimulate working in an agile way it is therefore critical to slim down and simplify the existing framework and into roles. These roles can be agreed upon and regularly reviewed at the team level. Regular re-evaluation of these roles ensures they still add value for the team. Simplifying the job framework creates space for personal development.

Tip 3: Keep it simple

Keep job descriptions simple and concise. A single sheet of paper should do. If your organization has built a monster job framework, it is time to radically simplify.

Formulating three simple starting points is preferable to a long list. Then, make sure everyone understands the significance and consequences of these points. Having a session to discuss concrete cases, and see how these principles would apply in practice, can work wonders. For each case discuss how your starting principles would define how to act.

Strive for a simple job framework, including simple job descriptions. This requires constant upkeep. Writing simple job descriptions, only to never change them won’t do. Regularly refactor your job framework.

 

Tip 4: Optimize your job framework for change

Agile job frameworks come in different shapes and sizes. Every organization has different needs, so there are no uniform, ideal solutions. To help you on your way I offer some examples of how other organizations are addressing these challenges.

A form of job framework I often use, is to reduce the number of job functions to 5-20 generic ones, which can be expanded upon using roles. The advantages of this are that you create overview by simplifying and introduce additional flexibility using the roles. You can do this along two axes: expertise (Communications, IT, etc.), or skills (Business Partner, Specialist, Manager, etc.). In both cases an employee will belong to a basic group and can use roles to expand their profile. A remuneration bandwidth can be attached to the job function to provide a clear remuneration structure.

Baarda uses a different model for remuneration and development. The basis for this model lies not in job functions but in the problem solving abilities and added value of employees. Styr, a specialist agency in the field of remuneration, has developed a comparable but slightly simpler model and distinguishes six types of added value. The advantage of both these models is that they focus on growth and value creation. This provides clear boundaries for salary growth and the corresponding conversation. At the same time it shows you the gaps in your organization, meaning you can address these to ensure long-term organizational survival. Be sure to always properly reward your specialist, often they are the ones that most directly add value for the customer!

Depending on your needs the models above can serve you well. Is your priority to create clarity about employee responsibilities, or employee growth and the corresponding remuneration? Naturally, combinations are possible, as long as you ensure you are not creating a new job framework monster.

Tip 5: Small steps, deliver value incrementally

Finally, make sure you make changes to the job framework in an agile way. You can do so by being transparent about the process and by delivering value incrementally. This may sound simple, but for HR this is often a radical change in its way of working. It means involving stakeholders such as the works council from the earliest stage, rather than offering a massive proposal for their approval. It means constantly updating your colleagues about your (lack of) progress to ensure transparency. Please believe me when I say a simple intranet message won’t do. Get out there, and talk to people face to face!

Talking half a year to deliver anything of value is unacceptable. Rather, you can start by testing the new framework in certain job groups or by immediately addressing salaries you know (from benchmarking) to be noncompetitive.

Conclusion

Let’s go back to the beginning: What is an agile job framework? There is no single answer, and there never will be. What is clear, is that there is a need to transform old robust job frameworks into new resilient frameworks suited to agile organizations. The goal is to support cross-functional and cross-departmental ways of working and allow space for new job descriptions and competitive salaries. In order to create such a new framework two prerequisites need to be in place:

  1. Start by determining what the value of the job framework is for your organization
  2. Co-determine the starting point for the conversation with employees and the works council

Your organization’s vision and values are key starting points when designing a new agile job framework. The new framework needs to enhance organizational agility and prioritize people over systems. The new framework itself needs to be flexible and adaptable. This is important in order to maximize opportunities for personal development and cross-departmental cooperation.

Finally, we discussed some options for providing boundaries and structure. I gave three examples that can help structure your new framework:

  1. 5-20 generic job functions combined with roles
  2. The ‘Baarda model’
  3. The ‘Styr model’

All three share a focus on sustainability:

  • Space for adding, removing, or altering job functions
  • Space for employees to develop and to take on new roles
  • Clarity on boundaries and growth paths, and on how you can add the most value in the organization

Ultimately the most important question remains: What would make a job framework valuable to your organization?

Minke Buizer