MNLARS and the People Problem

Not having or losing public sector talent shouldn’t be surprising.  The system is designed to foster that outcome.

As the confusion and finger pointing continue to reign regarding the state’s beleaguered motor vehicle licensing and registration computer system, the newly dismissed executive lead for IT on MNLARS is firing back at critics.  In a statement provided to the Pioneer Press, Paul Meekin highlighted several problems with the development process, including the state’s inability to attract the necessary talent.  “Minnesota needs to pay its IT workers more and hire them faster” he wrote, noting both the high demand for this talent in the private sector and its ability to pay much more than the state.

To some extent, the public sector will always be at a competitive disadvantage to the private sector with respect to compensation.  But state government exacerbates that disadvantage with a human resource management and compensation system seemingly designed to make things more difficult.

It starts with the basic, longstanding conceptual approach to managing state employment.  According to the Minnesota Management and Budget website:

Evaluating job content (the kind and level of work assigned to a position) rather than individual qualifications or employee performance [emphasis ours], allows for quantitative comparison of one state job to another.  Evaluation and comparison provides the foundation for consistent state-wide classification and compensation practices.

In other words, trying to establish “fairness” and equal treatment across disparate and completely unrelated occupations in government is the fundamental organizing principle and prime directive for state human resource management as opposed to skill acquisition, responding to labor market realities, and performance.  That alone deserves some reflection and reconsideration.

But it’s worth taking a closer look at how the state actually accomplishes this intellectually challenging and complex task of evaluating and ranking completely different occupations.  Enter the Hay Job Evaluation process, designed to ensure that government compensates jobs of comparable worth equitably.

According to the MMB website, the Hay Method is “a respected job evaluation process used by more than 8,000 companies and organizations in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.  First created 60 years ago, and used by the State since the 1970's, it continues to evolve to meet the changes in organizations and how work is done.”  One might have some suspicions about whether anything instituted nearly 50 years ago still has the same relevance and functionality today.  Nevertheless, if it continues to evolve to meet modern management and labor realities, perhaps it is still up to the task.

In a nutshell, the Hay Method Evaluation recognizes three core factors:

  • What a job holder must bring to the role (know-how)
  • How they apply this to the challenges in the job (problem-solving)
  • The impact that the job's outputs have on the success of the organization (accountability)

Each of these factors are analyzed for every possible job with the state and appropriate points are assigned accordingly.  Sum up the total points assigned to a job (the “Hay Rating”) and – voila – any government occupation can be ranked against another and anyone can quickly determine what a job’s relative worth to government is.  The state’s compensation structures subsequently reflect this “value to government”.

So let’s take a closer look at some occupations at the center of the MNLARS imbroglio.  The information below is taken from the latest state Hay Ratings (2016) on MMB’s website.  There are 5 classes of information technology specialists – higher levels reflect higher skill acquisition and responsibilities.

The first thing to note is that the “Hay Rating Date” for all these occupations is about 20 years ago.   We are not IT experts by any stretch of the imagination but we suspect the relative significance of the profession has changed a bit from the time the internet was first becoming a part of our lives.  These ratings result in Hay points totals raging from 238 at the entry level to 479 with the highest level of specialized expertise in information technology.  Again, these point totals in essence rank jobs by how valuable they are in the eyes of government.

The position description accompanying “Information Technology Specialist 3” notes this is the first level “where employees are expected to understand the broad business needs of the department” and highlights the following candidate qualifications, characteristics, and responsibilities:

  • thorough understanding of specific technology to complete major projects independently
  • capability to define what needs to be done
  • knowledge of business needs and the ability to use that information in making decisions on structure of systems and types of technology
  • problem solving that may require solutions that span several platforms using several languages in the client server, multi-tier, or multi server
  • participate in analyzing and designing systems, networks, and applications
  • examine the status and operation of existing systems and recommends or performs corrective measures

That package of know-how, skills, problem solving, and organizational impact merits 342 Hay points.  (Fun Hay trivia, the most valuable job to state government is MNSCU Chancellor at 3856 points.)

Here is a sample of occupations that are of equal or more value to state government (with their accompanying Hay Points):

  • Zoo Guest Services Supervisor – 353
  • Central Mail Supervisor – 366
  • Regional Coordinator for Tourism – 393
  • Real Estate Specialist – 404
  • Executive Assistant – 404
  • All 9 classes of Arts Education Teachers – 342

Many human resource professionals believe the Hay system is excessively hierarchical and strongly based on highly prescriptive demarcations of job responsibilities with a bias toward managerial

bureaucracy.  Indeed, in perusing the state’s Hay Ratings Report of nearly 1,200 individual job classifications, it becomes apparent that managing people is a more dependable path to higher compensation in government.

So how does all this translate into compensation?  According to the most recent labor contract, the Information Technology Specialist Class Group ranges from a minimum annual salary of $40,465 (for Specialist 1) to a maximum salary of $110,372 (for Specialist 5).  It suggests Meekin’s claim that, “they’ll be hard-pressed to earn more than $50,000” working for state government is significantly exaggerated.

But his broader point of an uncompetitive labor dynamic as being a contributing factor to the current situation rings plausible.  And that in turn is heavily influenced by the continued reliance on human resource and civil service systems whose halcyon days were marked by the use of slide rules, carbon paper, and IBM Selectric typewriters.