Job Descriptions for the 21st Century

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Published 2/28/2015

During a recent client engagement, I was reminded of the importance of having impactful job descriptions as well as an effective process for reviewing job descriptions. When companies don’t take job descriptions seriously, the expected performance results can be disappointing. So when I hear executives complaining about poor performance, I start asking a lot of questions to get to the root cause.

Here are a few questions that I ask clients:

  1. Do you use job descriptions in your organization outside of the hiring process?
  2. Are your job descriptions outcomes focused versus task focused?
  3. Do you integrate behaviors that support your company values into all job descriptions?
  4. Do your job descriptions clearly outline what behaviors/skills equate to standard versus superior performance?

If you were able to answer all these questions in the positive, then you are well on your way to transforming your job descriptions and integrating them into your talent management process.

But if you are like the vast majority of small businesses, you probably don’t even have standard job descriptions for all the positions in your organization, and they aren’t in a standard format.

So what are the benefits of supercharging your job descriptions and scrapping the outdated versions? In short, higher performance levels.

Let’s take a look at each of these questions in greater detail.

Do you use job descriptions in your organization outside of the hiring process?

Most small entrepreneurial companies, who have job descriptions, develop them when the need for a new position arises.  They will use the job description to recruit job candidates and then use it during the interview process as a checklist, never to be looked at again.

However, companies who value their employees’ growth and development use job descriptions as a starting point for managing their talent from the onboarding process to the development and review process, as well as career planning. Job descriptions are tools to be used in your ongoing talent management process.

Are your job descriptions outcomes focused versus task focused?

Most job descriptions focus on tasks that the position is required to accomplish versus the outcomes that the task, when done well, will deliver. When a job description focuses on outcomes, it provides the employee with a clear link between what they are doing to the company’s goals. When job descriptions focus on outcomes they set expectations and put employees on notice that performing tasks is not enough: to be successful, those tasks must result in a positive impact on the organization.

Do you integrate behaviors that support your company values into all job descriptions?

The most prevalent cause of failure by a new employee is not a problem with skills but a disconnect with values. You can teach employees new skills. Yet, on the other hand behaviors are much more difficult to change because they demonstrate an individual’s values.

Analyze your values for the behaviors that support them and then make these behaviors part of the job description. Accenture provides a good example. One of their company values is “Respect for the Individual”.  And, two behaviors that demonstrate respect are: 1. “courteous and considerate” by thanking others for their assistance or being willing to assist another team member and 2. “listening actively” for understanding and acknowledging another person’s different opinion and perspective.

Company values are the foundation of a company’s culture. If your company culture is sacred to you, make sure people on your team are accountable to the culture by demonstrating the right behaviors.

Do your job descriptions clearly outline what behaviors/skills equate to standard versus superior performance?

Not defining the difference between standard and superior performance in a job description is probably the most missed opportunity in the performance management process.

Many of my clients are smaller, entrepreneurial companies who have a very ineffective process when it comes to salary and wage increases. Often the process is ad hoc, based on company profitability and is not meaningful to the employee. When employees believe that the compensation process is not reflective of performance and contributions they make to the organization, their engagement will suffer.

My recommendation is to become very clear about both behaviors and outcomes for each job title that are required to be employed in that position and then determine what are the behaviors and outcomes that would prove an employee is exceeding job expectations.

I want to emphasize that both behaviors and outcomes need to be clear. An example would be a Sale Representative and outcomes for the position would be specific sales volumes while the behaviors could be courteous and considerate. So what if you have a Sales Representative who exceeds their sales quota by 50% but is a jerk to the internal support team?

Once you and the employee understand what “exceeding expectations” looks like then the compensation conversation becomes easier.

So the next time you are disappointed with an employee’s performance. Take a look at their job description first. It may be that the employee wasn’t given a good foundation to understanding the job expectations and how their performance impacts the company and its goals.

Beth Armknecht Miller is a Certified Managerial Coach and CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Her latest book, “Are You Talent Obsessed?: Unlocking the secrets to a workplace team of raving high-performers is available on Amazon.