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Five things to know about Job Descriptions
August 5, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments
Job descriptions are one of those business tools, like policy manuals, that belong in every company. It simply makes sense that every job comes with a written description of expectations of what success in that specific position looks like. But job descriptions are nothing more than an outline or an overview – not a complete reference guide with step-by-step instructions. Still, as a leader you cannot underestimate the importance of having job descriptions, nor can you overestimate their functionality.
Interestingly, the only job description I have ever had is the one I wrote for myself as president of Strategies. It was an enlightening exercise because it forced me to compartmentalize my work into functional areas like leadership, financial, sales, curriculum development, writing, training, and coaching. The process made me zoom out and take a 30,000-foot view of my job and the work that I do. I recommend that every leader go through this process – and not just once, but regularly over the years.
Here are my five no-compromise insights to job descriptions:
- They never mattered: Most job descriptions are best described as “read once – throw away.” They get handed out during the hiring process when assigning an employee to a new role. It is in this moment that job descriptions get their 15 minutes of fame. Then, they get filed away. They may only be position outlines, but job descriptions deserve more than this cursory review. Insight: If you want them to matter, make them matter. Write them with more detail. Review them with extreme scrutiny. Clarify the expectations of the position until there is mutual agreement. Make them matter.
- Go the distance: Job descriptions are a jumpstart – not the be-all and end-all to success in a given position. By design, job descriptions are heavy on the “why” and “what” expectations and outcomes of a job. They do not deliver the essential “how” elements that achieve the expectations and drive the desired outcomes. This is where the training, coaching, and mentoring process comes into play. Even when hiring experienced talent, it’s the training, coaching, and mentoring process that assures a smooth transition into the company culture. Insight: Keep job descriptions in the proper perspective of an outline. It’s everything that happens in the “how” process that ensures success.
- Time for a rewrite: As companies evolve and grow, so must job descriptions. The last thing you want is for your job descriptions to describe yesterday’s expectations. If you’re truly on that quest to reach the next level, your job descriptions should define up to date, next-level expectations. Insight: Annually review and update job descriptions to ensure that they are in alignment with company performance and growth objectives.
- But they still don’t know: OK, so you have detailed, current job descriptions written and distributed throughout your company, and yet you still have employees asking, “What is my job?” You shake your head in disbelief and say to yourself, “How can they not know?” Before you place all the blame on your employees, however, take a deep breath and listen to their feedback. Maybe what they’re really saying is that you are not clarifying expectations and outcomes as successfully as you think you are. Many leaders are notorious for rushing through and short-changing explanations. Insight: Creating absolute clarity takes time, attention to detail, and patience. If you’ve ever said, “Can’t they just do their jobs?” what you’re really saying is, “I haven’t prepared my team thoroughly.”
- Keeping them relevant: My infamous Neilism, “Do you do quarterly performance reviews at least once a year?” always gets a laugh, but it also calls leaders out on their compromises. Keeping job descriptions relevant means giving them attention during performance reviews to identify areas of excellence and areas that need improvement. It’s also an effective way to keep job descriptions up to date. Insight: Job descriptions are living communication tools of work expectations versus actual performance. Keep them relevant by making them part of the performance evaluation process.
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