Reader question : What grade for this senior role ?

What grade for this senior role ? We examine whether a job should have a different grade during its creation/launch phase vs when it is more “settled”

I’ve recently received this question from one of my readers :

Hi Sandrine,
I am struggling with reviewing and placing a new senior role. I believe the role itself once it has been established will fall into one gradeโ€ฆletโ€™s say Level 7.

However, the job of creating this new role (and department) is huge and takes a higher level of knowledge, influence, problem-solving, etc.

Is it an acceptable practice to grade the job as say Level 8 while it is being established and then Level 7 a few years after it has been established?

Or, would you recommend setting the job at say Level 7, but recognizing the person creating this role/department by having them higher in band?
We are split on what to do.

What a great question !

My instinct is to say that the role should remain on the same grade/level throughout, whether you decide it is an 8 or a 7.

Why ?

While creating a department requires grit, a bit of vision, and accepting chaos for an extended period of time, managing an established department has its own set of challenges that are quite difficult to handle, such as for example :

  • Managing a team and keeping them engaged and at their highest productivity and creativity, which becomes more difficult as the work becomes more established and process/procedure driven
  • Facing changes in the strategy or priorities of the organisation and adapting to them. It is often more difficult to change things that have been in place for a while than to create something entirely new…. resistance to change and all
  • Digitalisation and technological change which often have to be faced with lower budgets than we setting up because now it’s “business as usual”.

Are you thinking of the role or the person holding the job ?

What you see, and what is confusing, is that there are two types of personalities that are suited for the role :

  • The “starter”, the person who is comfortable with ambiguity, not having a large team, and having to problem-solve by creating new things/ways of working without guidance from similar situations from the past in the same department. Yes this person is creative and a problem-solver. They can also tend to be a bit impatient and not focused much on details as they are driven by the big picture.
  • The “manager”, the person who is comfortable motivating large teams (sometimes through layers of middle management), improving on things, producing results within the established constraints of the culture / navigating office politics, and being held accountable to consistent and improving levels of performance for themselves and their teams.

I think the questioning you are having regarding the grading of the role reflects a current tendency in your culture to value the “starter” profile more, maybe because you need some agility and speed to start creating that department.

But don’t under-estimate the value that the “manager” profile brings to the organisation ! Typically, most of your department leaders should fall into that profile.

Most likely what will happen is that the “starter” person will start to fidget and get bored and ask for new things to do once the dust starts to settle, as they can’t bear having to focus on details and creating effective change not through a big bang but through increment – I should know, I identify as a “starter” myself ๐Ÿ™‚

At that point the “starter” will move on internally or to another organisation, and you will need the political-savvy, culturally-attuned, people-oriented skills of a “manager”.

The role will not be different – it will just require a different set of competencies and personal attributes, which are just as valuable to the organisation, from the job holder.

Plus, who is to say that you will not have a major reorganisation down the line, and the “manager” will have to give up part of their team and integrate work which was done somewhere else before, or completely redefine the scope and mission of the department because of automation and AI, or face a merger/acquisition ?

Besides, I have never seen an organisation rate a leader role at a certain level when the role was created, and then lower that grade later on when the role was more “settled”.

And which criteria would you use to determine exactly when and why the role should move from the creation phase to the post-creation phase, and should require a downgrading ? What if it is the same person staying in the role ? Would you change their grade down now that the role has been “fully” created ? Now, that would make for quite an ironic reward for a job well done ๐Ÿ˜‰ !

Now on the grade of the role throughout. Should it be a 7 or an 8 ?

I suggest that you look at similar roles that are already established in your organisation. If they’re all 7, then maybe 7 is right. If they’re all 8, then maybe 8 is right.

Just make sure that you have the right person to face the challenge of today and the coming few years ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, I could understand if someone else has a different view and approach, as I am not sure that there is a right or wrong answer to the question. If some of my readers have a different perspective, I’d like to hear from it ! Please share your views in the comments ๐Ÿ™‚

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Image credit : Emily Porter via Unsplash

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  1. Gopi Krishna says

    I think the evaluation of the role and that of the incumbent can and should be different.
    When evaluating the role, we are really looking at aspects of the impact the role is expected to handle, & the scope the complexity.
    When evaluating the incumbent we are seeing whether the individual is a right fit to perform said role – in many cases , the incumbent may be not yet there – ie. the role is filled by an individual less capable – expectation being s/he will grow into the role. in some other cases the incumbent may be overqualified than whats required for the role

    • Thanks Gopi. I think you’re right, sometimes there is a mismatch between the role evaluation and the (lack of) readiness or over-qualification of the incumbent. This is really helpful to understand for talent management purposes.
      However in terms of C&B and org design, I believe that we need to stick to the role evaluation, unless the incumbent was already in a higher grade role in which case you have to pay them according to their grade – but replace them with someone in the appropriate role grade once the incumbent moves on to another role or leaves the company.

  2. Muhammad Usman says

    In my opinion, the job grade should remain the same because when you evaluate a job you evaluate a job as it is being performed to its fullest potential. Placing the individual in the same grade and within the salary range will depend on his readiness so if he is unerqualified then better to pay him near the start of salary range instead of giving lower grade. In my experience, if there is still a split between decision makers then keep the job grade as per job evaluation and assign a lower grade to the person in case he lacks competence. For over qualified candidates you can keep their personal grade higher than the job grade but dont change the job grade because it will compromise the job. I hope this will be useful.

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