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New administrative job-classification system proposed

For the past seven months, teams of administrators have been working on a project to redesign the classification and compensation system for administrative staff positions on campus. The teams have now reached an important milestone: a proposed classification model with six levels (down from 42 in the current classification system) and six "compensable factors" (up from four).

The term "compensable factor" is defined as an element of skill, ability or other type of competency that can be described clearly at various levels, and for which MIT is willing to pay differentially.

The Classification and Compensation project was initiated because MIT needs a job classification system that is easier to understand, access and use than the current 25-year-old point factor system (see MIT Tech Talk, July 15, 1998).

The levels in the new system being developed are numbered from one through six, with six having the highest degree of compensable factors. These factors include the following three from the current classification system: critical thinking and problem solving; knowledge, skills and expertise; and responsibility and accountability.

The new system will add three more compensable factors that were derived through a collaborative process with input from across all administrative areas on campus. The new factors are collaboration, communication, and influencing and leading.

"In terms of compensation, MIT has always valued the knowledge and skills that staff members bring to their jobs, but in the new model we'll also put an emphasis on qualities that make administrators more effective in working with others," said Nora Costa, manager of compensation.

Each compensable factor is broken down into a number of "dimensions," which further define the factor. The model takes each one of these dimensions and describes it across the six levels of administrative staff positions.

For example, the dimensions for the "Communication" factor include verbal/written skills, listening and understanding, conflict resolution and educating others. In the dimension "educating others," the description for a level-one position is: "Communicates basic established processes and procedures, formally or informally." The level-four description is: "Assures there is sufficient knowledge about one's work area within the department." At six, the highest level, an administrator would "share information externally regardingthe academic and research mission of the Institute, and internally regarding Institute and regulatory policies."

The contents in each dimension are cumulative in the sense that positions classified at levels two and higher are understood to incorporate the descriptions of all lower levels. To determine a position's overall classification level, a position description questionnaire is being developed, which job holders and their managers will use. Eventually, the classification model (in the form of a matrix) will be available to the community through the Personnel Office web pages.

A position's classification level will not define an individual's salary potential in the same way as the current salary range system does. For example, two positions that are in the same level but are in different fields will have salary ranges that are tied more closely to their specific markets. And if certain skills that MIT needs for a new position are in short supply in the marketplace, then the MIT salary must be competitive with the salary that an applicant with those skills could receive elsewhere.


The Classification and Compensation project team sought input from more than 50 people across campus and used a number of classification model-building techniques to develop the new model. As part of this process, about 80 administrative positions, or "benchmark jobs," were chosen. The project team sought positions that either had multiple job holders (like administrative officers) or positions with a single incumbent that represented a function critical to the Institute.

Positions selected as benchmark jobs also had a fair balance of male and female employees and were relatively easy to compare to the external markets. The benchmark jobs will be used and referred to throughout the project, and they will serve as anchors for comparison in the new classification system.

The team also used research results and extensive MIT community input gathered by the Human Resource Practices Development (HRPD) team. HRPD's work on classification and compensation, performance management and competencies is reflected in the development of the new model, and will continue to be integrated throughout the project.

Concurrently, the HRPD project has used an interview protocol grounded in 25 years of research to collect data about competencies (technical, experiential and behavioral) that are necessary for successful performance in administrative roles at MIT. The interviewees were a sample of individuals from the benchmark jobs.

The purpose of the interviews was twofold: to verify that the classification model has the right compensable factors, and to capture a set of core competencies for all administrative staff positions that will be the basis for other HR practices, such as performance management, and training and development programs.

"We expect that the competencies identified through the HRPD project interviews will support and possibly refine the compensable factors in our model. MIT will benefit from the collaborative efforts of these two projects," Ms. Costa said.

The Classification and Compensation project team is now working on other aspects of the new system. The current "job documentationstage" of their work involves updating job descriptions for the benchmark positions and assigning classification levels to these jobs.

Next year a process will begin, with the help of a web-based job documentation tool, to update and convert all administrative staff position descriptions to a format consistent with the new classification model. The Compensation Office will work with areas to determine the most appropriate way to accomplish this aspect of the project. Eventually, all administrative staff job descriptions, classification levels and salary opportunities within each level will be available online.

It's important to note that the development of the new classification system does not mean that administrative staff members will have to reapply for their jobs, or that an individual's pay will be affected, positively or negatively, by this project.

"We are about halfway through the project, and expect to be providing similar progress updates to the community every few months," Ms. Costa said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 9, 1998.

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