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Work Levels and Excellent Job Design

Work Levels and Excellent Job Design Overview When jobs have clearly defined accountabilities; when people are capable of undertaking these; when they want to do so and are given the appropriate space to do so, human endeavour can produce the most remarkable achievements.

Introduction There has never been a more important time to ensure that jobs are well designed. Well-designed jobs are a prerequisite for high performance and, in conditions of economic constraint, they are also vital for survival. At the same time as job design is becoming critically important, traditional ways of looking at jobs and describing these are proving to be cumbersome and out of touch with a constantly shifting workplace and the need to create flexible resource pools. In this article you will be introduced to Work Levels. This is a management system that some of the most successful companies on the planet use for job design. Work Levels provides the basis for excellent job design. As jobs are the building blocks of organisations this system can also be used for organisation design- but that is the subject of another article!

cover the drawbacks in the approaches to designing jobs.


Costs and Unintended Consequences In designing any large structure the building blocks have to be clearly specified. A designer or architect has to protect life and limb, as well as their own professional reputation, by making sure that the elements fit together and are up to the job in question. In organisational terms, job descriptions specify important ‘building blocks’ but in contrast to the way that physical objects are built, these vital elements are often neglected in many organisations. Here are some of the obvious negative consequences of working in situations where there is a lack of job clarity: De-motivated employees, The wrong people doing the wrong jobs, Rework,

Before turning to Work Levels let us review the cost of failure that so often accompanies poor job design. We will also briefly


Additional costs.

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Work Levels and Excellent Job Design For a short while it was fashionable to consider the job as a dead concept. In some companies inspired by Mckinsey’s talent agenda, an emphasis was placed on recruiting the brightest and best and then letting them do ‘good’ work. Enron followed this wave for a while….and we all know where that one broke.

sations. New style job descriptions focus on purpose, accountability and outputs and do not list the tasks that are the means to the end-result. These job descriptions define the ‘space’ for innovation together with the boundaries and interfaces. Current Methods of Job Design Let’s look at the current methods of designing jobs. In recent years, it is typically the case that job design has been become a subset of either job evaluation or technological/system/process design.

The building blocks of high performance organisations are well designed jobs. Without proper foundation...

Enron clearly took a step too far but it signalled the shift in traditional notions of what the word ‘job’ means in today’s workplace. Jobs that exist relatively unchanged over the course of a working a lifetime are now few and far between. Jobs are more fluid than they ever have been and in many cases last only as long as a project. Organisations are no longer interested in training a person to undertake a specific set of tasks. They aim for resource pools that can flex depending on demand and the specific needs of a situation. In line with these changes job descriptions that prescribe a set of tasks are rightly seen as constraining change. However, instead of constraining change, well-written job descriptions are the building blocks of efficient and effective organi-


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Job Evaluation Where there is a disciplined approach to writing job specifications, this is often largely associated with evaluating jobs for comparison and pay purposes. Within analytical systems, the job factors or dimensions that are considered to be important are given a weighting. Individual jobs are then measured against these and a score is generated that can be used for ranking or comparison purposes. However, there are limitations and constraints of using these systems to design jobs. These systems simply provide a score and there are no checks and balances to ensure that a job is well designed. In fact, very often there is very little in these systems that helps determine whether a job is needed at all. Where formal job evaluations systems don’t exist, companies often use their own template and identify job factors that they consider to be important, or they write job descriptions as they go with each manager using their own preferred method. However, specifying a job that fully captures the requirements of jobs can be difficult.

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Work Levels and Excellent Job Design As such, it is easy to default to a list of tasks and activities rather than to set the boundaries, purpose, opportunities and value-add of the job. When this happens, new jobs are created when the task list gets too long for a current job holder.

newer variations have had a huge impact on job design- especially where there is a high degree of repetition that is required, the underpinning idea of a job as a set of tasks is an over-simplification of reality. Technology clearly shapes jobs but, when jobs are simply specified as components of a technology there are very negative consequences including personal alienation. Without a clear connection to a wider purpose, just being a cog in the machine lacks meaning. People are meaning making and meaning seeking beings and this has to be taken into account in the design and description of the job. Scientific Management and its newer variations in the form of process reengineering have contributed to work design but one of the limitations is that they try to ‘design-out’ the person from the work. Work Levels So let’s turn to Work Levels and see what this adds to the subject of excellent job design.

Technology, Systems Development and/or Process Re-engineering The other major influence on job design is technology, systems development and/or process reengineering. The turn of the last century saw the rise of Scientific Management led by Frederick Taylor and first demonstrated in Henry Ford’s car factories. This revolutionary system divided up a manufacturing process into discrete chunks of work (jobs) that could be repeated and quality controlled to optimise efficiency. Using updated techniques, process reengineering and related disciplines set out to do something similar. Whilst Scientific Management and its

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Work Levels is a management system that is used by some of the largest and most successful companies on the planet. In reality it could be said that Work Levels is a source of competitive advantage for such companies as BHP Billiton, G4S, Huntsman, Anglo-American, Unilever and Tesco. This system ensures that accountabilities are clearly defined and that people are placed into jobs where they can make their maximum contribution to the organisation. Work Levels is very different from those systems that are used to evaluate jobs. Rather than taking a range of weighted factors and summing the individual components to arrive at a score (and using this as a proxy for job size), it starts by clearly segmenting the world of work into different value-adding levels of contribution.

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Work Levels and Excellent Job Design Contribution describes the purpose, accountabilities and main outputs of the job. At each successive level, value is added to the work carried out above and below. This value-add is expressed as level specific accountabilities. Accountabilities are the critical component. Allocating these clearly without gaps and overlaps is the foundation of high performance. Work Levels also identifies the level specific job dimensions that lead to output and the achievement of accountabilities.

Recruitment, Target setting, Performance planning and management, Fit-for-purpose organisational design and structures. In putting people and jobs in juxtaposition, Work Levels recognises that people are meaning making and meaning seeking beings. Good job design provides meaning and when people have meaning- anything is possible.

Based on the integrated framework, a direct 'mirror-image' connection is made between the outputs of work and the inputs- the personal capabilities and level specific competencies required to achieve these. At each successive level the capability to get one's head around the scale of the challenge needs to change profoundly. Summary Work Levels is a holistic system that sees work and people as two sides of the same coin. This is a simple and powerful concept that is directly relevant in today’s information/knowledge economy. Unlike many approaches to designing and describing jobs, Work Levels ‘designs-in’ the person and ensures that the human ability to make judgements in conditions of uncertainty is maximised.

Contacts Dynamic Link Ltd UK Suite 2, 16-25 Bastwick Street London EC1V 3PS Phone +44(0) 207 608 1118 Please email: Rosemarie McGuire, Partner, Head of Practice at

Work Levels ensures that jobs are well designed by focusing on contribution as well as the job dimensions that enable outputs to be achieved. When jobs are described using these terms the resulting Job Descriptions become the basis for:


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At the same time as job design is becom- ing critically important, traditional ways of looking at jobs and describing these are proving to b...

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