Functional buildings: a new hype?

For some time now, there has been a new kind of hype, especially within governments. To achieve more efficiency and, as many say, to get more potential out of employees, so-called function buildings are set up. By setting up a job structure, the reasoning goes, one of the reasons is to prevent different job descriptions from arising for various jobs. Over the years, functions can change because certain production processes change, but also because managers sometimes find it necessary to add some aspects to a function on an ad hoc basis. If this is not managed, task pollution will result in the longer term. A job structure is then better for managing all functions and also makes maintenance of job descriptions easier because everything is together.

To organize

A number of elements are crucial for organizations to function. In general, people quickly assume that personnel formation is the most important element. After all, people do the work that produces the organization. Well, this mistake may be forgiven. Organizing is nothing more than dividing tasks and coordinating work . But how do we get that work? First of all, it must be ensured that the organization in question also has a legitimate raison d’être and to have that, every organization has an objective. One wants to become the absolute best at making tea bags, the other has their sights set on providing more than excellent care to those in need. Once the objective has been formulated, consideration can be given to how that objective will be achieved. Processes will therefore have to be described by which the objective will be achieved. Once this is in order, it can be determined who (people) will be involved in the various processes. Gradually what we generally call organizational structure arises. In this structure the internal hierarchy becomes clear. We can clearly show this in the organizational charts.

Task and work

Based on the idea that the processes required for production have been correctly identified and described, staffing can be considered in terms of personnel. The central question is: who can be charged with which (part of the) process? This simple question is not always answered well, sometimes with far-reaching consequences. Roughly speaking, we can say that there are administrators, supporters and executors who each have their own task. A task can be regarded as the added value or authority of the functions in relation to the primary and secondary processes in the organization. And: every task is important. The task leads to work and not the other way around. Suppose one of the tasks in the organization is: enforcing legislation and regulations and monitoring compliance, then the next step is: what actual activities does this task lead to? It is perhaps clear that this may be a police officer. To properly perform the task, this officer may, for example, stop people and ask for identification. For example, he or she may also (albeit on behalf of the minister) inspect companies for the employment of illegal workers and impose sanctions. However, it is not inconceivable that there are more people who can stop people and inspect companies. The crucial question remains whether those actions (work) can also lead to the same task. After all, the authority in the example is reserved for the police authorities.

Functions in organizations

After all processes have been described, the tasks have been identified and the work has been described, the next step can be taken: functions are created. Functions are the smallest elements in the organization. Ideally, each position in the organization is unique and described as accurately as possible, and yes, there will be multiple individuals who have received the same job description. It is important when describing positions not to go into too much detail, but to make it clear in broad terms what the powers are or what the added value of the position is in relation to the organization. In terms of format, the description could look like this:

  1. Environment: where the work is carried out;
  2. Activities: which activities must be carried out according to the task;
  3. Decision-making space: what can the officer decide independently;
  4. Knowledge, skills: what knowledge and skills are needed to properly perform the work;
  5. Contacts: which functional contacts are present in the position that are necessary to function properly.

Job descriptions should never be converted into an activity list. How and in detail an employee (officer) is deployed or has to do the work is a matter for the managers and/or the existing procedures and regulations.

Excesses

Excess always grows in the field of organizing, it is even unavoidable. Sometimes it can even be explained logically. Suppose you have an agency with five employees active at any given time. After some time, one of those employees becomes ill and that employee’s task is taken over by the others, albeit temporarily. After all, it’s only a quarter more for each. This went well for a while, but it now appears that the sick official will be away for a while and no replacement is hired. For the other four, task contamination will occur because they have each been given part of the task of number five and perhaps without compensation. In such a situation, the response is often to supplement the job descriptions with parts of the task and activities of the employee who has failed. However, that is never possible. After all: for each position it is determined to which (part of the) process the position is linked, as well as the knowledge and skill level. When tasks and activities are simply redistributed, this can lead to poor productivity because people are not up to the task and the activities, or because, due to a high level of education, they quickly become bored because the task and the work are below the knowledge and skill level. Care is therefore required. In addition to absenteeism due to illness, all kinds of circumstances can lead to task contamination. Installing new technology that leads to changes in processes can also cause this. Even reducing staff numbers without considering a new objective and task often leads to excesses.

Function buildings or function houses

To combat the excesses just mentioned, a number of government organizations have set up so-called function buildings , and some speak of function houses . The purpose of a job structure is to simplify the design of organizations with job areas and the associated job descriptions. Instead of fairly detailed descriptions, job classifications are used and each job classification is ranked in some way. An example of a job classification is transport employee . The ranking is as follows:

  1. Transport Employee A;
  2. Transport Employee B;
  3. Transport employee C.

The mutual differences are indicated by, for example, differences in driving licenses or the need for a special type or type of driving skills. This includes transporting important officials or special freight. In this way, the entire organization can be mapped and classified into similar functional areas. The most basic division (management, support and implementation) can remain intact.

Pros and cons

The most obvious advantage is that it saves an enormous amount of work in describing and redescribing functions. Without a function building, every function will have to be reconsidered as soon as new technology is introduced, for example. When a job structure is available, this is significantly less often the case, because the job classification is a general description. Another advantage is that vacancies do not require you to think about recruitment text again and again. There are also disadvantages to functional buildings. Extreme caution must be exercised in identifying the positions at hand and the associated knowledge and skill levels in advance. If this is not done correctly, certain job classifications may be classified incorrectly and this can quickly lead to confusion and dissatisfaction. Caution is also required when introducing the intention to set up a function building, where clarity about the intentions is absolutely necessary.