The Foundational Components of Human Resources

Davis Cooper and Katrina Washington

Image of hands holding building blocks and text 'Foundational Components of Human Resources

Today’s society is characterized by a myriad of uncertainties and unpredictable circumstances. Oftentimes, this results in dilemmas that organizations must expeditiously address. As the workforce continues to evolve, it is now more important than ever for governmental entities to maintain a current and compliant personnel system to confront and navigate the complexities that human resources often experience. Central to human resources is the ability to recruit, retain, and develop valued employees while advancing the organization to achieve maximum performance and productivity. An effective personnel system acts as a pillar of an organization and it provides the critical infrastructure and support for the organization. Generally speaking, a personnel system consists of: (1) job descriptions; (2) a classification and pay plan; (3) a policies and procedures manual; and (4) a performance management system. A core objective of any personnel system is to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws. Ultimately, the personnel system should be the driving force that creates and cultivates a positive, sustainable culture that permeates and shapes the work environment.

Colorful pyramid with words on itFigure 1

As illustrated in Figure 1, the foundational basis of the personnel system is based on accurate, current, and compliant job descriptions. Job descriptions should accurately reflect the essential functions and duties required of the job. It is consistent with “best practices” that job descriptions are: (1) updated every three to five years and no longer than seven years; (2) reviewed, signed off by the appropriate individuals, and dated when changes occur; (3) written to reflect the needs of the organization; and (4) directly tied to performance management and performance appraisals.

Several components are inherently part of job descriptions. Specifically, job descriptions should encompass and include the following:

  • Identifiers - the title of the job, the department where the job is located, and the job’s classification grade should all be clearly identified and designated.
  • Essential functions - the required and necessary functions of the job should be detailed. These job duties are integral, usually cannot be reassigned, and are performed frequently. Essential functions are the reason the job exists.
  • Job tasks - Job duties should be listed on the job description under each essential function.
  • Contacts and their purposes – the types of entities or individuals the incumbent interacts with, both internally and externally, in the performance of the job.
  • Physical and sensory engagement required; work environment features or concerns.
  • Knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs).
  • Minimum qualifications - consists of educational level required for the job (not what the incumbent has attained), work experience (type and length) required, and/or credentials or certifications required (either already attained or attained within a specified timeframe) for consideration of the job. Additional minimum qualifications should specify if travel, a driver’s license (specific type), and insurance are conditional elements of employment.
  • Background check and drug/alcohol screening - identification is important if applicable to the job.

One of the most basic functions within any organization should be to establish a compensation scheme that is competitive and equitable and that promotes employee engagement and high levels of job performance. Competitive compensation practices are essential to employee recruitment and retention efforts. A well-designed compensation structure supports the organization's strategic plan and initiatives, development goals, competitive outlook, operating objectives, and compensation and total reward strategies.

A main objective of classification and pay plans is to establish internal and external pay equity. The classification and pay plan of the organization aim to establish and provide a basic grade and salary range for each job listed and approved. Once the job descriptions are written, they are evaluated based on the presence and extent of nine (9) compensable factors: (1) knowledge required by the job; (2) supervisory controls received; (3) guidelines; (4) complexity of the job; (5) scope and effect; (6) personal contacts; (7) purpose of contacts; (8) physical demands; and (9) work environment. These nine (9) factors establish and rank the jobs into different grades and help preserve internal job equity. The classification plan should: (1) include a grouping of jobs in classes which are similar in duties and responsibilities, and which can be equitably compensated within the same range of pay and (2) detail a list showing the job title of each job within each grade. Overall, the classification plan should be reflective of the jobs.

With the grade structure established, benchmarking of pay ranges is accomplished to develop a pay structure that is competitive with the surrounding market. The pay benchmarking helps preserve external equity within a given employment market. The pay plan should consist of various steps to include at least a starting minimum, mid-point, and ending maximum rates of pay for every grade within the classification plan. Generally speaking, all persons hired or promoted should be compensated at the minimum point of the salary range for that position and all employees should be paid at a rate within the salary range for their position, except employees in trainee status, or (on rare occasions) employees whose existing salaries are above the established maximum for their position. In pay, external equity refers to the relative amount an employer pays workers compared to what competitors pay workers in similar jobs. A primary purpose of ensuring external pay equity is to attract and retain talented workers across all positions.

A current and compliant Policies and Procedures Manual establishes and facilitates the culture of the organization. A Policies and Procedures Manual, not to be confused with a “handbook” which is typically an excerpt of the manual, is one of the most overlooked and underutilized tools in the workplace. It has been likened to a road map in employment where it serves as a guide through the various phases of employment status. Organizations should embrace a culture that supports the manual and fully utilizes it, regularly reviews, and revises policies and procedures, and takes new regulations, standards, technology, and structural changes into account. The Policies and Procedures Manual provides insight into the day-to-day operations of the organization. It is the responsibility of the employee and supervisor to have a working knowledge of the manual. Supervisors should also have an open-door policy and allow employees to seek answers to questions and/or resolve concerns. The Policies and Procedures Manual should be distributed to each employee upon hiring, provide documentation of employee receipt where the employee signed and dated, and updated/revised when laws change, or new laws are added. Overall, an organization’s Policies and Procedures Manual needs to be easily accessible to all employees, current and up-to-date, and complaint with established laws.

Finally, organizations should possess an ongoing and continuous performance management system. This performance management system should be directly correlated to current and compliant job descriptions.

Colorful circle graph with performance management cycle

As illustrated in Figure 2, the Performance Management Cycle is a continuous process that requires ongoing evaluation, assessment, and feedback. The supervisor and employee should both set goals and objectives at the beginning of the performance management process. Phase II consists of the supervisor assessing, monitoring, and providing feedback to the employee throughout the performance period. Phase III represents the actual completion and discussion of the performance appraisal session. Finally, Phase IV represents any rewards or recognition and culminating in preparing for the next year with establishing goals and objectives. The overall purpose of performance management systems is to develop people and teams to improve their performance and the greater organization.

This article, written by GEDI’s Davis Cooper and Katrina Washington, appears on page 41 of the Fall 2021 Alabama Municipal Journal.


Davis Cooper

Davis Cooper, IPMA-SCP, is a Human Resources Consultant at Auburn University’s Government and Economic Development Institute. Davis has over 10 years of direct experience in the development of human resources programs and over 35 years in operations management providing design, implementation, delivery and management support expertise facilitating educational programs.


Katrina Washington

Katrina Washington, IPMA-SCP, is a Human Resources Consultant at Auburn University’s Government and Economic Development Institute. She is currently a PhD candidate at Auburn University in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Technology.

Last Updated: October 11, 2021