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How organisations can build strong foundations through job architecture and job levelling

Career experiences don’t just happen they are built from getting the basics right

By Ruchi Arora , Alexa Beazer and Stephanie Rudbeck | June 5, 2023

A versatile and agile job architecture combined with clear job levelling can ultimately result in longevity of your organisation’s ability to remain agile in the face of disruption.
Employee Experience|Ukupne nagrade |Employee Engagement |Benessere integrato|Compensation Strategy & Design|Career Analysis and Design

Job levelling and job architecture have long been used by organisations as the traditional way to provide the infrastructure required to help organise work and rewards based on job types and levels of seniority, and this foundational approach is something that we think should evolve with time as markets and business evolve.

In our last article we showed that career experience will be a central part of 2023, and this remains the case, with people looking to find a purpose in what they do as a job. It is in this article we unpack that second element in how you define work, level of contribution and communicate what a job means. We believe the clearer you do that, the better the career experience becomes. Ultimately getting the very foundations of your organisation right, enables organisations to be more flexible by thinking of work more broadly.

Building the house to see the home

If we think firstly about what a job architecture is and then what job levelling is, we can imagine building a house. You start with the foundations and cornerstone, the job architecture in this context, setting out what the floorplan of your job families will look like. The levelling for a job then determines how high you build the walls, how high up do you want it to go, are you building a ladder career path, or one that is more varied, defined by skills? In deciding this you can then see the rooms of the house, or in this case the job families and skills you need to have to get work done as it relates to what your business needs. For one organisation this might be engineering, whereas another might be operations, the rooms are meant to be designed around what your business needs to achieve.

If we then take this a step further the decoration of the walls, ornaments and what you put in each room becomes the skills, they are the pieces you can change, bring in new ones, or change the colours of the walls, or types of jobs you need, to get that work done. The house then becomes a place where the internal design can change with the times, but the structure of the house itself and how high it is, are the things than remain the constants and common structure through which change is achieved. It’s also the part of the building that not everyone notices, and that’s part of the point.

What next for job architecture and job levelling?

Foundational changes should not need to happen often if designed broadly and with the key principle of the job architecture being agnostic to organisation structure. This is not to say that the reason to review whether what you have is fit for purpose, indeed a periodic review once a year, gives you that ability to go back to the basics. Are your job architecture and levels acting as they should, do they set a cornerstone to achieve the business goals by setting out the roles that will meet the goals? Do your job families and levels help provide transparency to employees, helping them think about career moves and experiences across job families, functions, geographies, business areas and levels within a business that inspires people to grow, develop and be rewarded.

Organisations can benefit from understanding the market trends in job levelling and job architecture. A shelf life of 5-10 years is pretty good going for a job architecture, but we find over time organisations don’t maintain and govern these frameworks; they don’t evolve them as the market shifts. We only have to go by the last 2-3 years to see how much the market has evolved:

  • The need for robust, defensible structures remains a priority. Pay equity and fairness is a key part of the narrative
  • Organisations are moving to broader, flatter frameworks to reflect organisational models, ways of working and to promote flexibility
  • Employee experience drives the narrative and transparency is key to attract, retain and engage talent
  • Re-framing the purpose of frameworks from job evaluation and cost control to careers, contribution, and opportunity

WTW have years of experience in providing industry specific insights on how the models for job levelling and architecture can vary, as each industry has its own unique characteristics and specific talent requirements. No one size fits all, even if from the outside the houses all look the same.

In addition to the trends, we have already mentioned above, we wanted to highlight two key areas we are seeing organisations take to evolve their frameworks:

  1. 01

    Creation of digital job families, almost adding a new room to the house. It is important that digital is defined in the context of your organisation as this can vary depending on where the business is at on its transformation or digitalisation journey. Digital jobs tend to be found across different parts of the organisation therefore having a job family to capture all these jobs regardless of organisation structure can be extremely powerful. It helps the business to see where these skills and jobs sit.

  2. 02

    Using job architecture and levelling to enable careers, how do you define what a career is? It used to be a linear approach which required levels clearly set out with attributes at each level. However, we have moved to a world where skills are the currency and careers are more about experiences, they are networked or latticed, we see more and more non-linear, sideways moves in organisations, ones where the route to an employee’s ambition is mixed across difference disciplines, experiences and skills. More to come in our next article on skills and careers.

Implications for reward practices

Job architecture and levelling are critical when we consider all the pay transparency and fair pay regulations being implemented around the world. The implications of these regulations are more far reaching than requiring organisations to report gender pay gaps to comply with legislation, they are driving organisations to be more transparent when it comes to pay. They are giving more rights to employees to ask for pay information. Organisations have a burning platform to be prepared to be transparent and to have their house in order.

It comes down to the house again, if you have a picture in one room at the same height as another one in a different room then they are a peer. But how did they get to that position? This was through starting with the structure when building the house, get the initial piece misaligned or not quite right, and the process of answering lawful questions becomes more complicated, and costs time for teams to unpick.

Equal work deserves equal pay. It is simply not possible to define equal work without your job levelling and job architecture in place.

Equal work deserves equal pay does not however mean every employee doing the same job needs to be paid the same. Pay can vary for objective reasons of difference. Often this leads to companies asking the question, do we need to go back to granular grading structures and narrow definitions of jobs. It is quite the opposite of the trend around defining work and jobs more broadly to support business priorities around agility and flexibility. The answer here is that this doesn’t mean organisations need to default to more granularity, it requires organisations to ensure good reward practices are in place underpinned by robust level and job infrastructure which help the business in explaining the objective reasons for difference.

Easy to understand, easy to communicate

Job architecture and levelling are foundational to communicating careers and  reward. When a job architecture and levelling approach is designed and implemented well, it should be simple and aid the business in explaining to employees where they sit in the organisation, and what they can do to grow, develop and move.

Bringing this all to life for employees, managers and leaders requires careful planning and the use of a variety of communication tools and media. Three key enablers spring to mind:

  1. It is critical to invest time in ensuring all your stakeholders are identified and managed throughout the design process to make sure that all their needs, concerns and questions are addressed before you get close to launching it. Ensure that you understand what resources and tools different groups will need to be able to understand and use the information that you’re planning to share with them, and in a range of formats to reach different groups and reinforce the messages.
  2. In our digital world, we know that providing access to information in a digital format is expected; employees are used to a sophisticated customer experience outside of the workplace and so making sure that they can navigate the information in a similarly simple, interactive and engaging way is critical. Organisations need to engage and inspire in the way they communicate to drive the behaviour they want to see, so for example if lateral moves are important for the business to build broad experience, then bring this to life with engaging career stories and information/tools that allow employees to see how easy and exciting this would be for them!
  3. Enabling managers to have the confidence and capability to have quality conversations with their people about their careers means providing them with the resources and training to do so. This includes FAQs, conversations starters, how to respond to challenge and the forum to discuss questions they have with peers.

Having invested so much time, energy and hard cost into developing your home, not advertising and selling it to get the best return on your investment means that no-one will want to move in!

Revisit the foundations to prepare for agility

We bring this all back to the beginning, employees desire a career experience that means something to them, where there is growth and purpose as we see learning and development as a key attraction and retention factor. This starts with a strong foundation of job architecture and job levelling that’s clearly defining the organisation, in a simple way. Then easily communicating this to people, elevating the focus on the experience, rather than on how complex it is to navigate what their job means.

That beginning also means focusing in on the foundations and looking back at the job architecture and levelling approach, assessing what this looks like, in the context of where business goals have evolved.

We have decades of experience in doing this, helping organisations set out the foundations clearly, so that their employee experience has room to grow and add the value people are looking for. Ask us more about how we can guide you in building your approach (house).


Work, Rewards & Careers Practice Leader

Director – Work and Rewards

Senior Director – Employee Experience

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