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How to create a job level framework

May 3, 2024

Job levels are one of the most important components to an organisations people practices. They form the cornerstone of many of these practices and often distinguish adolescent businesses from mature ones.

What are some ways it generates value for business?

  • A commercial People function distinguishes itself by accurately forecasting talent costs through a job level framework, enabling proactive talent management.
  • Measuring pay equity relies on a robust framework for fair and consistent evaluation to ensure equitable compensation and transparency.
  • A framework contextualises employees' roles and empowers them to understand their place, leading to increased employee engagement and organisational success.

I could go on.

Job levels are a critical juncture in which organisations see their culture and principles transformed into role definitions and pay practices.

How do we create a job level framework to achieve this?

We need to start by defining our roles

To benefit from the whole, we need to understand the parts.

To do this, we need to understand our current roles and use them as building blocks to create a job level structure that represents our entire organisation.

Starting with the job.

The standard way to define a job is with a job description. Job descriptions can be rare at a fast-moving startup, but they’re important at this stage.

If you’re fast-growing, you may have job ads that capture what a PD would — they can be a helpful substitute. If not, that's your first step, and you’ll need to start building job descriptions for each role.

You can create robust job descriptions by following this simple approach:

  • Define a consistent job description template for the organisation.
  • List all titles in your organisation. After removing duplicates, the count will tell you how many PDs you need.
  • Work with your organisation to document each role against each title, using this template.

Note that this exercise is about having a job description for each unique role, not each person in the org. You may have 100 people, and only 40 unique roles. A key thing to remember throughout this work is that we are only focused on roles, not the people that occupy them.

Things to note at this stage:

  • If two roles have the same title, you might assume they do the same thing. But it's best to confirm because #startuplife happens.
  • Consult broadly and constantly to ensure alignment. Get your business onboard.
  • If you’re not sure about the descriptions you’re comparing, confirm it, or it may skew your framework.
  • Confirm with your hiring or senior leadership team how the organisation's growth will affect roles and incorporate this into your work.

You should have a position description for each unique role in the organisation by now.

We need to arrange those jobs

Once roles are defined, it’s time to arrange them relative to each other and understand our organisation's composition.

When I say composition, I mean height (number of levels from most senior to most junior) and width (number of job families and peer jobs within a family).

To do this, we’ll arrange our roles by job family.

Grouping roles by job family

A job family is a group of roles that share similar characteristics, require similar skills, and perform related functions, for example, HR/People roles are a job family.

For agility, many organisations (especially startups) define job families as all roles in a department (e.g., HR/People department = HR/People job family).

From here, categorise all your roles by job family.

A table with each unique job, categorised by job family

Grading your job family

Once roles are grouped by job family, it’s time to introduce hierarchy and order them by seniority and career track.

Seniority means a higher value role, not a longer tenure or age requirement — we’re talking about roles, not souls.

Career track refers to whether the role is professional (responsible for their own work) or a leader (responsible for others' work).

We’ll start by looking within job families, then across them.

Grading within a job family

Within a job family, you rank them from most senior to least senior. It’s common to use a reporting line, as less senior roles report to more senior ones in typical org designs.

At this stage, it doesn’t matter if a more senior role exists on the same level as a more junior one, we’ll handle that in the next step. For now, your roles should resemble your organisational structure.

We now have a set of roles ordered from top to bottom by job family seniority and career track.

All roles within a job family, organised by seniority and career track

Rinse and repeat this step for each job family. Then, you will have completed the following for all job families.

All job family's arranged by role seniority and career track

Grading across job families

Now that the hierarchy within each job family is final, we need to start comparing the roles across families.

We do this because the most senior role in one job family may not have the same value as the most senior in other job families, and vice versa. This helps us understand the full job level structure.

For example, does the CFO deliver the same ‘value’ as a Marketing Communications Director? No. One oversees the financial welfare of the entire organisation, while the other leads a vertical within the Marketing team.

How do we distinguish between the roles and split the levels to reflect this? We need to develop a robust set of criteria that tell us the value of a role, regardless of its discipline.

Defining job traits

A job trait is an attribute that describes the responsibilities and characteristics of a role, focusing on the work rather than the specific professional discipline, and allows for consistent application across the organisation.

When considering traits, we want to consider two dimensions:

  • the number of traits, and
  • the degree of variation from most senior to most junior.

The goal is to have job traits that connect the language of the position description to the level of the job trait.

When choosing traits, start with those core to a role and common across companies (important for salary benchmarking).

While they may vary in title or description, those traits tend to fundamentally include:

  • Job Complexity/Problem Solving: This trait focuses on the level of complexity and problem-solving skills required in a role. It assesses the ability to handle intricate tasks and make critical decisions.
  • Scope of Work: This trait examines the breadth and impact of the work performed by the role. It assesses the extent to which the role affects the organisation, whether it's focused on a specific team or has a wider organisational impact.
  • Autonomy: This trait measures the level of autonomy and decision-making authority granted to the role. Senior positions generally have greater independence and authority in decision-making.
  • Impact: This trait measures the potential impact of the role on the organisation's success and risk exposure. It assesses the significance of the decisions made and the outcomes achieved by the position.

You might also have these two traits tied to the Individual Contributor or Manager role tracks.

  • Technical/Functional Expertise: This trait evaluates the level of specialised knowledge and expertise required for the role. It assesses the depth of technical or functional skills and the ability to contribute to specific areas of the organisation.
  • Leadership/Management Span: This trait evaluates the degree of leadership or management responsibility associated with the role. It considers factors such as the number of people managed, their seniority, and the overall impact of the role on team performance.

Identify any specific traits not covered by these that might appear as a pattern across many position descriptions. For example, ‘communication’ or ‘industry-specific knowledge’.

Generally, avoid 'years of experience’ as a strict requirement. People don't like being told to stay in a role for X years before promotion, especially if they're capable of more and may feel forced to seek it elsewhere.

Grading your traits

Once you’ve shortlisted your traits, it’s time to develop gradings for them. Gradings define how a role trait evolves from the junior to the senior end of the job level framework.

Here is where we need to do some back and forth with the work we started earlier while organising our roles.

We have our traits, now we need to assess each level's roles relative to one another. I’ve updated the job level matrix so we now have levels to take into account the inevitable expansion.

We now have levels on our left hand side — it's starting to take shape!

Earlier, we determined that the CFO and Marketing Communications Director were not at the same level. Now, we can start to define this in more detail. Using the language that exists in both job descriptions we can start to describe the level of their traits, and determine where they differentiate. It might look like this.

Now that we understand how these roles differ, we can move the Marketing Communications Director down a level, along with everything else below it. Now our framework looks like this.

Our Marketing Comms Director is different to our CFO, so drops a level alongside everything else below it.

This has started to define the level description for a C-Suite role (CFO, COO, CMO, CRO etc.) and a Director-level role across the business.

After comparing all roles occupying at the same level, you'll reach a scenario where you've accomplished two things.

  1. All similar value roles exist on the same level.
  2. Each job trait will have a definition at each level.

Your role levels now look like this.

Where our jobs now sit relative to one another's value

We understand the composition of our job level framework. Based on this example, it's 6 levels high (CEO being the highest) with an overlap of manager and individual contributor roles, creating a two-track framework.

Now, we’re going to name each level and arrange it by track to represent our final career framework.

Our completed job level framework

Congrats! You’ve completed a critical step towards organisational maturity.

Some organisations will take this further by developing job level rubrics or job title dictionaries to ensure consistency and application of this framework. This can be used to convey career paths, align with job level frameworks from a market dataset to benchmark roles, and forecast and hire talent.

Developing a job level framework is a significant effort, but worth it. By defining roles, arranging them in job families, and grading them based on traits and seniority, it establishes clarity and structure that can be used well into your organisations future, leaving a lasting, commercial impact on your business.

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