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As the Consortium continues to grow and receive questions, one of the most challenging classification issues that continues to surface is determining the appropriate title, series and grade level for the senior-most administrative support in the organization.  Using a case study approach, we’ve identified the challenges for this type of classification and some recommended options and solutions which may assist the classifier in determining different approaches to resolving this politically and technically charged issue.

Case Study:  The Executive Assistant

Challenge:  A request to upgrade the senior management official’s administrative support has landed in your in-box.

Background:  You have received a request to re-classify the senior administrative support person in the organization to a higher grade level.  Management has provided a new position description.

  • You research the position’s history and discover the position was reviewed a year ago – and nothing has changed.
  • The request from last year did not support a higher grade level.
  • Senior management is looking for options on the upgrade – they don’t want “no” for an answer.
  • HR management is looking for an alternative.  They have submitted a request for additional HR resources and don’t want senior management to deny it – creating additional pressure on the classifier!

To begin with, the position of Executive Assistant generally didn’t exist in the government twenty years ago – these positions were classified as secretaries.  Over time, these positions have experienced significant scope creep with regard to the duties and complexities required.  Generally, these positions are “front office” positions, reporting to the organization’s senior management (Director, Administrator, Commanding General, etc.).  As these positions become increasingly more valuable to the organization’s senior management, a strong desire to reward the incumbents for performance also may be a issue.  You, as the classifier, are facing pressure (stated or not) from above to upgrade the position.  Your senior HR management may or may not support you, through some vague remark as, “do what you think is right.”  If you determine that an upgrade is supportable, it can create a long list of challenges, including a domino effect for other administrative support positions in the agency.  Years of service and performance are not classification factors – so what are your options?

In addition to the classification challenges identified above, you’ll also be faced with technical classification challenges – that of a one-grade versus two-grade interval work classification determination.  This is particularly challenging when addressing the staffing issues that accompany this challenge.  Will the “incumbent” qualify for a two-grade interval position when the work of the current position is graded as a one-grade interval positions

Options:   

  1. Conduct a managerial audit and use the results to classify the position correctly.
  2. Conduct an audit of the incumbent, or an audit of both the incumbent and the supervisor.
  3. Rewrite the new position description to support the requested grade level and request management verify the accuracy of the new position description.  Use the new position description to classify the position and write an evaluation statement to support the requested grade level.
  4. Classify the position as if it were any other request; provide management and HR management with the results, and a risk-benefit analysis.
  5. Just sign off on the proposed PD and new grade level, conducting a surface review.
  6. Request guidance from the senior classifier.

Analysis:  The following analysis corresponds to the numbers above:

1. Conduct a managerial audit and use the results to classify the position correctly.

This option may demonstrate to everyone that you are interested in obtaining the facts, but that doesn’t mean that the net result of the audit will change the outcome.  Additionally, this option may increase management’s expectations of achieving a grade increase; reasoning that since you know more about the job, you should be able to use the information to support the requested grade level.

2. Rewrite the position description to support the requested grade level and request management verify the accuracy of the new position description.  Use the new position
description to classify the position and write an evaluation statement to support the requested grade level.

In a customer service HR organization, this may be expected, and may actually provide a viable option.  It may be that management isn’t clear about what types of work or changes in the existing PD would support an increased grade level.  Rewriting the PD, using the appropriate position classification standards, may provide you with increased opportunities to identify work that will support an upgrade, or provide you with better information to support your recommendation regarding the grade level determination.

3. Classify the position as if it were any other request; provide management and HR management with the results, and a risk-benefit analysis.

Ok – let’s face it – this isn’t any other request!  It’s a highly visible request with potentially significant consequences to your credibility, HR’s credibility and creating a great working relationship with senior management.  So – you are back to considering either Option 1 or 2 above – or some other option in which you apply your classification expertise and management advisory skills.

 4. Just sign off on the proposed PD and new grade level, conducting a surface review.

As with Option 3 above, the context of this request makes it special.  And as we’ve already discussed, it’s a highly visible request with potentially significant consequences to your credibility, HR’s credibility and creating a great working relationship with senior management. While this option is similar to Option 3, it is a different option, but not really an acceptable option when you get down to the “nitty-gritty.”  So – you are back to considering either Option 1 or 2 above – or some other option in which you apply your classification expertise and management advisory skills.

5. Request guidance from the senior classifier on the best outcome for the classification program, the HR office and most especially, the organization. 

The senior classifier (often known as the principal classifier) may be a great resource to assist you in determining the best course of action, given the context, political impacts and organizational dynamics. 

Recommendations:

  • The majority of classifiers would find a blended approach to resolving this challenge, including a comprehensive position audit, development of an in-depth evaluation statement, and conversations with management and HR staff to understand the various impacts and risks of decisions and recommendations.
  • In most cases, management will be able to implement this classification request.  However, as the classification specialist assigned this action, you are responsible for ensuring that management is fully informed of all implications – for example, that if this position is upgraded, it will generate requests for reviews and upgrades of other similarly placed or classified positions.

References and Further Reading:  

  • Introduction to the Position Classification Standards
  • The Classifier’s Handbook
  • OPM Position Classification Standard, Secretary, GS-0318, TS-64, June 1982
  • OPM Position Classification Standard Flysheet, Miscellaneous Clerk and Assistant, GS-0303, TS-37, November 1979
  • OPM Position Classification Standard Flysheet, Miscellaneous Administration and Program Series, GS-0301, TS-34, January 1979

If you have questions or would like additional information regarding this or other classification issues, please feel free to contact Susan Custard at susanc@custardconsulting.com or 360-852-8126.