Why I Hate Job Descriptions! – We Need a Better Mousetrap…

Before you breathe a sigh of relief and think I am recommending abolishing the task of writing job descriptions, think again! Job descriptions are vital to any organization, particularly in efficient well-run businesses that are facing rapid growth, increasing competition, changing market conditions, technological hurdles, and a host of other challenges lining up on the horizon.

However, many business and organizational leaders view the task of writing or reviewing a job description with enthusiasm similar to the periodic colonoscopy. They know it is important but aren’t sure just why. That combined with answering the question “isn’t there something more interesting to do that actually makes money?” often results in putting this thrilling activity on the old “back burner”.

Purposes of Job Descriptions – Don’t Go To Sleep Just Yet…

So let’s take a quick look at what things job description should do for an organization. Here are 3 broad categories of objectives that should be considered when putting together a job description. (Notice: I said “putting together” rather than “writing”…)

  1. Employee Selection
  2. Human Resource Administration
  3. Operational Guidance

Employee Selection and Human Resource Administration are for the HR nerds. Very important to say the least. These are vital for acquiring the best talent, assisting in corrective action, providing guidance as to needed knowledge, skills & abilities, legal protection, and the list goes on… However, they once written these are reviewed when needed and generally not part of a company’s daily activity.

I can’t tell you the last time I walked into a business leader’s office to see a job description on the top of the desk. Why not?

Back to the Colonoscopy….

Well, let’s go back to the colonoscopy analogy. Until the doctor tells you that you have cancer the procedure is a nuisance. It’s not operational. However, if the good doctor told you that you would have cancer in 2 years and 37 days and that eating bran would change the course of the eventual diagnosis you’d be eating that awful stuff like M&Ms. Now you’ve got goals, methods of attaining them and certain danger to avoid. In addition, you would enjoy a host of health related benefits that would not have been realized without beginning that cycle of discipline.

Operational Efficiency – No, Really. There is more here than meets the eye.

Okay, here’s reality: If you have employees, you have issues. You may have deteriorating morale, loss of internal control and inefficiencies that are costing you on the bottom line.  Something like job descriptions can help.

There’s good news: I have a plan that is a lot more engaging than writing a job description that will have you thinking in fresh ways about how your business can be improved, provide meaningful guidance to your employees and shore up may potential leaks in the dike.

Before I give you the mousetrap, I want to tell a story of a request from a client.


Hmmm… I Never Thought I Would Be Asked to Do That…

Some time ago I had a client ask me to help him write an operations manual. Like any good consultant I accepted the offer not really knowing what it would look like. So, after several sleepless nights I came up with the idea to pull the duties section from several job descriptions for employees in his organization into an operational matrix.

I arranged the matrix by placing employee position across the top and categorized the duties into functional sections by row. After setting up the matrix I indicated the responsibility by marking the appropriate box with and “X” in the matrix under that employee.

Here’s what happened…

After assembling the matrix and populating it with my best guess of duties by individual, I reviewed the matrix with the employees indicated. We added detail by row, reorganized rows to better fit operational functionality and changed assignments under each columnar position as needed.

The effect of the matrix was to combine several roles in one visual document, clarify duties by individual and gain added department-wide perspective of inter-related activities. In addition, the review and perfection of the matrix was a team effort that resulted in real employee engagement and enhanced communication among the players. It was actually a fun process. Much better than eating bran…

Some specifics on developing the matrix:

The matrix should be completed for functional subsets of the organization rather than trying to tackle the whole organization. For example let’s assume a matrix for a sales and marketing department and a construction management department:

  • Columns in the matrix:
    • Sales and marketing would have a column for salesperson, sales assistant, customer service representative, advertising manager, publications specialist, etc.
    • Construction management would have a column for estimator, purchasing agent, job superintendent, foreman, etc.
  • Rows in the matrix:
    • Sales and marketing would have rows for contact management activities, documentation in CRM, lead generation reporting, sales funnel reporting, customer follow-up, sales publication development, etc.
    • Construction operations would have rows for blueprint acquisition, architect communications, permitting, completion of purchasing by division, etc.

Better than a colonscopy!

This process works! I’ve used it over and over again. In many cases I start the process by asking my client for copies of their already-written (dust gathering) job descriptions, organize them into a single document by pulling duties only and we are off to the races!

After this process, many job descriptions can be completed more expeditiously by pasting these duties into a somewhat more “boilerplate” format to satisfy the requirements of the traditional and dreaded “Job Description” to keep the HR types at bay.

Let us know if we can provide further guidance.

photo credit: Human Trap via photopin (license)

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