Roles in an Organization


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Officially, my job title is a Software Engineer. What is your official job title?

Does your job title define what you do? I highly doubt it.

A function provided to the organization is a role.
A collection of roles make up job families / titles.

This distinction is the primary difficulty in job searching, promoting employees and defining job families.

Imagine you repair cars, it’s likely you specialize in some aspects of repairs, but your job title is a mechanic. Perhaps, you specialize in replacing breaks or transmission repairs, this is called a role. It’s natural to try and specialize, it helps make you more valuable and effective. Specialization is key to reducing costs in a business, it is used in everything from healthcare to factories.

Unfortunately, this leads to the job family / title in an organization often being detached from the specialization / role at hand.

For instance, I am a “Software Engineer” and I work with all “Data Engineers.” We all specialize in unsupervised machine learning, hyperparameter tuning and optimization, and distributed system. We provide trainings, patent and consult on machine learning projects. Arguably, all of our titles should be closer to a “data scientist” or “machine learning engineer.” I also have the role of product owner engaging customers, managing expectations and relaying that to the team.

What does this make me? … A software engineer?

The reality is, most of us don’t have a “defined” set of roles. We all wear a multitude of hats and a job title doesn’t define us, our projects do — we take on roles to complete our work. In many cases, this leads to job titles being uncorrelated with “roles.”

Measuring Performance

I began contemplating this when reviewing Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). How can we properly define OKRs for job families, if roles are so dynamic?

Often, OKRs are linked to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are measurable and obtainable “key results”. Employees should not be subject to objectives that have nothing to do with the roles they function in. It is detrimental morale and many employees will neglect important roles and instead focus on arbitrary metrics.

Perhaps, the solution is dynamic job titles.

To some extent this is what we are tackling at Metacortex. When the system identifies and tracks expertise it can generate clusters of related “job families”. Today, it’s working well although it is somewhat detached from “roles,” as the system uses “expertise.” Expertise is close, but not quite representative of roles. Anyone can pick up a “role” without having any expertise, they just may not have expertise yet.

Perhaps, this is not a problem we can fully automate. We can get close, but the reality is, our jobs are always shifting. For many of us, our experience, expertise and roles we take on are too vast to express in the term “software engineer.” I suspect, it’ll always be a work-in-progress attempting to define OKRs, KPIs, and other metrics to employees. The best we can do is remind each other that everyone can contribute and we have a dynamic nature to our set of roles.

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