tranzition executive recruitment

Job Design and Job Classification

Or, How Not to do it the Henry Ford Way


“949 required strong, able-bodied and physically strong men. 3,338 needed men of merely ordinary physical strength.  Most of the rest could be performed by women or older children.  And we found that 760 could be filled by legless men, 2,627 by one-legged men, two by armless men, 715 by one-armed men, and 10 by blind men.”

The Ford Motor Company’s assessment of the 7,000 specialised jobs required to manufacture a Model T Ford, as described by Henry Ford in his autobiography, My Life and Work, 1923.



Although Henry Ford’s take on job design and classification would not be well received in the modern era of gender equality, rights of the child, and respect for the differently abled, it is an early example of how jobs could be designed and classified to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation and its workforce.


Whereas job design and job classification are actually two distinct processes, the distinctions are often blurred in the minds of the managers who need to implement them.  Here are overviews of the two processes:


Job Design                                                                    


- looks at the ideal requirements of the job                    

- examines the job in terms of the employee’s needs    


Good job design results in greater job satisfaction of employees by establishing roles which, for instance:

- have clear and achievable objectives

- require, and provide the opportunity to use, a range of skills

- include scope for decision-making and use of initiative

- provide for interaction with others (colleagues, clients, etc)

- allow for professional and personal development and career progression

- have clear and defined relations with others (ie: supervisors, subordinates, colleagues, clients)

- set a challenging but manageable pace


Factors to be accounted for in job design include: technological/engineering factors (systems, processes, equipment, safety, resources, etc), human factors (physical and intellectual capabilities of the employee, ergonomic issues, personal control, motivation, etc), and quality of life factors (working environment, remuneration and benefits, hours of work, stressors, etc).


Job design is generally undertaken at the time the role is being created, and, when done well, serves to make the job more attractive to potential candidates (improving the quality of the ultimate appointment), and rewarding for the appointee (improving both productivity and retention). 


In the case of job redesign, such as during an organisational restructure, an existing job - either with or without an incumbent – will be reviewed, revised, or re-created, usually to update or improve that job’s effectiveness, relevance to the organisation and its goals, and/or attractiveness to potential candidates or to the incumbent.


Job Classification


- looks at the actual requirements of the job

- examines the job in terms of the employer’s needs


Good job classification results in the employer obtaining valid and relevant information about the job to assist with planning and decision making.  Such information includes:

- work content of the job, such as tasks and responsibilities

- context (environment, conditions, relationships, etc)

- resources and constraints

- objectives/outcomes (and the method of their measurement)


A key outcome of the classification process should be an accurate position description, including selection criteria, or, as some organisations prefer to call it, a job/person specification.  Such a tool is vital for effective recruitment and selection, but it can also drive and support effective induction, training, performance appraisal, salary review, career development, and succession planning activities once the appointee is on board.


As in the case of job design, job classification should occur at the time the job is created, so that the results of the classification exercise, as outlined above, can assist in the recruitment and selection of the most appropriate person for the job.  However, the subtle difference is that job classification aids the employer in selecting the best candidate, whereas job design helps make the job more attractive to potential candidates (as well as maximising the effectiveness of the organisation’s human resources).


Of course, in the same way that job redesign can occur at any point in the job’s life cycle, with or without an incumbent, the same applies to job reclassification.  The trigger for reclassification could be a radical restructure, or more subtle, incremental changes over time that eventually lead to the classification being out of alignment with the role’s current purpose and focus - in the latter case, the instigator of the reclassification could be either the employer or the employee.


Whereas job design processes are generally subjective - what makes a job attractive and fulfilling for a certain employee or group of employees within an organisation may bear little resemblance to what appeals to other individuals or groups - job classification processes, at least within organisations that have such processes clearly established, are far more objective, even formulaic.  In fact, one could almost go so far as to say that job design is the art, whereas job classification is the science.  Because classifications are often used as benchmarks against which relative remuneration/benefits and status are weighed and granted, one classification approach (albeit, a quite generic one) may be used by even large and diverse organisations to assign classifications to individual roles.  The same ‘one size fits most’ approach does not usually apply in job design - except in the case of very small and/or very homogeneous groups of employees – and individual style and preference, within reason, may play a much larger part.


However, in the era of Mr Ford and his Model T (“Of course you can have it in any colour – as long as its black”), there wouldn’t have been the same level of differentiation between job design and job classification – it is more likely that one process would have fed directly off the other.  No doubt the design of jobs on the assembly line was based around the type of worker (physically strong men; less strong, but still able-bodied men; women; older children; and men with disabilities) who could and would be willing to perform them, with the job classifications determined accordingly.


So a few things have changed for the better over the last 80-90 years… the way in which jobs are designed and classified… and the fact that you can get your Ford in almost any colour you desire, including black!




By Trevor Neville, Principal, and Kirsten Ferguson (Human Resource Management Consultant), TranZition Professional and Executive Recruitment, Level 3 Waterfront Place, 1 Eagle Street, Brisbane Qld 4000. Email:  Web:

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