Par Anne Esgain

La classification des fonctions : quoi, pourquoi, comment ?

The outcome of this exercise is a consistent, polyvalent internal job structure that sustain most HR processes (salary benchmarking, salary strategy and structure, performance management, talent management, succession planning, etc.). Job classification is a complex exercise: a balance must be kept between building employees’ buy-in and avoiding creating too many roles, which may result in a high-maintenance structure and global inefficiency.

How do you reach that balance?

There are several answers to this question, but one of them is : by carrying out an organisation (re)design analysis. Organisational design involves the optimisation of roles, processes and structure in order to meet organisational objectives. It puts roles, processes and structure into the strategic perspective by showing how those three organisational components contribute to the company’s strategy. In short, the analysis of work processes lead to the definition of roles which can be described and assembled to set the organisational structure. Choices made during the organisational design processes may to a large extent define people’s roles and responsibilities, determine how they collaborate (for instance either by “grouping” or “integrating” roles) and either broaden or limit the career paths available to them.

Very often, companies tend to rely on org charts to display the hierarchy of jobs within an organisation. The truth is, an org chart provides very limited information on how jobs interact with each other. Therefore, the org chart won’t help you find out if a key role is missing or where responsibilities overlap. It will also say little about the efficiency of work flows or processes. I remember this client who had set brand new job descriptions for his Corporate Marketing department. He had come to me for advice because the job descriptions (which were, in fact, task lists) didn’t provide relevant information about how those new roles were supposed to interact and who was accountable for what, so this new structure didn’t work. Organisation design clearly fills that gap.

Let me give you a clear example.

Let’s figure a non-university hospital in a Belgian town. Most hospitals are sub-divided in units and sub-units, or grouped together (depending on the perspective you use). This is called a hierarchical decomposition. Hospitals usually have a rather flat structure, with a Medical Director to whom report the medical heads of units. Each head of unit represent a specific medical specialty : Radiology, Oncology, Gastroenterology, Paediatrics, Gynaecology, Radiotherapy, Anaesthesiology, etc.

Below each of the unit head, you have several medical specialists as direct reports. There will be nursing teams as well, each time led by a chief nurse reporting directly to the unit head and indirectly to the group of medical specialists. The structure of all units is likely to be the same, whatever the specialty is. So apparently, in this typical functional structure, each unit functions independently from the others, right ?

Let’s go further. For this example, we will focus on the medical roles only.

Mrs. X is a patient who wants to investigate on a breast lump she just discovered. Mrs. X will first see a gynaecologist who will check her symptoms. She will most likely be sent to Radiology for a first scan. Based on these first visits, a portion of the lump will certainly be extracted and sent to Anatomic Pathology for a biopsy. Anatomic Pathology will determine whether the lump is benign or not. If Mrs. X has a cancerous breast tumour, she will be referred to an oncologist who will take over the lead for the next stages. With the gynaecologist’s possible support, the oncologist will design and prescribe a global treatment plan which will involve a Radiotherapy treatment followed by a surgery to remove the tumour. Then the second stage of the treatment will often involve a hormone therapy prescribed by the Radiotherapist and followed closely by the oncologist. The gynaecologist will stay tuned throughout the process and keep ensuring the global follow-up of Mrs. X for any gynaecologic issue, referring her to peers whenever necessary.

In this apparently very simple structure, a good organisational (re)design exercise may lead to several questions. First : what is the strategy of the hospital ? Do they want to stay “mainstream” or are they planning to develop certain skills, like developing specific cancer fighting units ? Whatever the answer is, it will strongly influence the final structure. On the one hand, a “mainstream” hospital may opt for a typical functional structure, where work in silo is possible but will create bridges or processes to work cross-functionally whenever necessary. On the other hand, cancer fighting units are always multidisciplinary: specialists need to work closely with each other so as to design the best approach for each patient. The org chart should look different so as to reflect these cross-functional, specifically designed work processes.

Depending on the hospital’s strategy, they will focus on certain roles instead of others (e.g. develop small or large cancer fighting teams or opt for a more mainstream approach, leaving the cancer specialty to larger hospitals). If they want to specialise, some hospitals would tend to have specific HR strategy for cancer specific roles, allowing for a differentiated treatment (ex. More attractive salary conditions). So the key profiles and even the final amount of job descriptions will be different from one case to the other.

The final outcome of an organisation (re)design process is to align the organisational structure with the organisational strategy while optimising coordination costs. This optimum will be formalised into key work processes and a final organisational structure. The analyses will provide enough information to determine how many hierarchical levels are needed for the structure to function at its best (the “hierarchical decomposition”), determine which roles should report to which role (the “chain of command”, which is key to build an efficient organisation), find out how many different jobs are needed in the new structure, the size of the teams under each unit head of under each manager (i.e. “span of control”). If necessary, the analysis may pinpoint that a few key roles need to be created and staffed to as to meet the strategic goals.

So in short, organisational design is a holistic methodology that aligns processes, roles, responsibilities and systems so as to fit business goals by designing the best organisational structure and accompanying the change process.


She is an HR professional with experience in both soft HR (job descriptions & job evaluation, organisational design, job family modelling, performance management) and hard HR (HR policies, Comp & Ben, global mobility…). She is familiar with the Hay Group methodology.


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