Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

What level is that job? What title should it carry?

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on August 11, 2011

Many if not most businesses develop and carry through on way too many of their basic operations as if on autopilot, with simple standardized approaches to identifying and resolving what can actually be complex opportunities and decision points. My goal in this posting is to at least briefly discuss an area where this is in fact the default approach for most businesses – determining job levels and compensation packages, with titles of positions set accordingly, at least as far as they would indicate level and position on the table of organization.

The basic issues are at first glance at least, relatively simple and straight forward. A hiring manager reaches agreement with their manager, and probably explicitly with Human Resources and others, to hire for a specific position. This may be a new position or it may mean filling a vacancy for an established position. Even there, this should be taken as an opportunity to review and update the job description so candidates are going to be sought with skills and credentials for what the job actually currently entails – not for tasks no longer done or that are done but with lower priority. And the new hire selected will in most cases report to that hiring manager and in most cases will hold a position one or two, or even three steps lower on the table of organization than that of the hiring manager.

The precise job level is important here, as most organizations have fixed compensation ranges that an employee would have to be paid within, while holding any given level of position. When for any reason, total compensation raises to exceed the maximum set for that position level, that employee has to be promoted to the next level up. And generally there is a measure of overlap and on both sides of the compensation range where the low end for one level of position can be the same as the high end for one level down. And most of the time, a new hire has to be is offered a package towards the middle of the range for that position, or even a bit below the median level so as to leave room for annual cost of living salary increases where that employee would still fit within the parameters for their current job and title.

What happens when a functional area of service within a business comes to carry greatly increased importance and both strategically and for maintaining current market share? I have seen that happen a number of times as for example when the web and developing an effective online presence became central and even predominant for revenue generation. When I was webmaster at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, that nonprofit transitioned from bringing all of its revenue in off-line to bringing in a major proportion of total revenues-received online. How should an organization respond to that as far as determining the level of the key positions required in-house, for this type of area of responsibility?

On the one hand, any reputable nonprofit dedicates as much of its incoming revenue towards its mission as possible, and that places pressures on that organization to limit personnel expenses, and to keep compensation packages down. On the other, organizations need to secure and retain the most qualified, capable, high-performing employees that they can. And that means offering competitive compensation and other benefits. So if they offer a less competitive compensation package than their best employees could find in another position, elsewhere, they risk experiencing a real talent drain. I note in this regard that the primary route for career advancement in nonprofits is in finding a next level up position with a different nonprofit and moving on, so this can be a real problem – and both for key employees and throughout their branch of the table of organization as loss of crucial team members is very disruptive and can leave other employees looking for the door too.

Should the lead manager of a crucially important service such development and maintenance of web site and online technology and marketing be upgraded from Director or Senior Director to Assistant Vice President or even to Vice President? Obviously that depends on the specific organization and on what level-distinctions are made in its table of organization – as well as on the pressures it has to respond to in order to get and keep the best and to give them sufficient overall authority to do their job in that business’s system. Should at least certain key current positions within that team be promoted as a retention tool in order to retain the best and most experienced?

I would finish this posting by outlining a very specific scenario in which one of the cardinal tenants of the basic default model has to be challenged. You need to hire a very experienced software programmer or designer with some very specific high-demand cutting edge skills. And you need to find both the right person for hands-on technical skills and someone who can also work effectively with the team they would join and with your in-house software development clients, end-users and stakeholders. Once you find the candidate you want to bring onboard, how do you make your offer stand out as being of particular appeal, and still keep to an overall budget and have this hire effectively positioned in your table of organization? Consider the following as a part of your marketing strategy for securing the services of this best candidate.

• Hire at a level two steps below the hiring manager, or three but at the upper end of the compensation range that this position would command, and not lower down as would be usual.
• And offer your selected, best candidate this position with a guarantee of a promotion within some agreed to brief period of time after successfully completing their probationary period.
• This breaks the usual pattern and that fact in and of itself makes this offer look more generous. And it would strongly convey the message to a candidate that they are and will be respected, and they will find opportunity there to advance in their career.

The overall point here in this posting is that any operational process important to include in a business is important enough to do right, and that means thoughtfully and with consideration of effective variations where they would make the most sense. This definitely applies to Human Resources and to its processes and practices.

You can find this and related postings in HR and Personnel.

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