Job Descriptions

Vital to Performance Management

Writing effective job descriptions is vital to the success of any new hiring action. Managers often find this an arduous task.

  1. Do you have any existing employees who are not performing well? Their problem is often a symptom of not knowing what they are supposed to produce on the job. Having a clear job description will go a long way to putting them on the right track.
  2. With new employees, getting them up to speed rapidly depends upon their grasping the essence of the job. You can devote many hours of management time to getting them grooved in, but a clear job description will save you a lot of those hours.

Placing the wrong candidate into a job can be disastrous. It can cost your operation a ton of money; not to mention the added frustration of having to go through hiring activities all over again.

A key factor in ensuring you get the right person lies with defining exactly what the job is, before you even start to look.

So, job descriptions, done well, can save a huge amount of management time. Now, where do you start?

Start at the End

The best place to start is to ask: “What is the end result of this job?”

You must clearly define what the person in this position is supposed to produce. You then have a valid starting point from which you can write a job description that will be effective.

To do this, you have to look at how the position fits with related functions and how it contributes to the overall goals and purposes of the operation.

Questions that will help here are:-

  • Why does this position exist?
  • What should it produce?
  • What’s missing if it’s left unfilled?

Get this down to a very simple, net statement of “end result”. In many cases this will be a single factor, but in some cases it will be multiple.

To give you a feel for what is needed at this step, here are some examples:

  • For an Installation Technician, the end result might be expressed as: “Installations correctly completed on time.”
  • For a Sales Exec, it could be: “Total sales revenue”.
  • For a Collections Officer it’s probably: “Owed money collected on time”.
  • For a Marketing Manager it might be: “Increased market share”.
  • For a Branch Manager it could be: “A viable and expanding branch operation”.

Don’t skimp on this part of the process. Getting the actual end result(s) nailed down is vital to the success of the rest of the exercise. It is the foundation stone upon which everything else in the job description will stand.

Get other related functions involved. Seek their input on how the job in question relates to their areas. Ask them what they expect in the way of end results coming out of that job into their areas.

For example, an Installation Technician would expect that the Coordinator would make sure that all materials are delivered to the site on time.

You can look at this on the basis of “customer” and “supplier”. If the function of the job you are considering is one that supplies something to another function or department, what does that “customer” department require?

A final test of the validity of the end result lies in 3 areas:

  1. Does it contribute to the overall company goals?
  2. Does it supply what related functions need?
  3. Is it expressed in terms that are measurable?

This third point ensures you have finished up with an actual “result”, as opposed to an “action” or a “concept”. Results are measurable.

The Perfect World

The next major step in creating the job description is to imagine what things would be like if the person in this post was doing everything absolutely right. How would it look if everything ran exactly as it should?

This perfection may never be achieved, of course, but you need to document what that perfection would look like.

In this way, you make the overall goals and targets of the post very clear to the new job applicant (or the existing employee). They can thus make a more certain decision about the job before it is offered to them. They also have a very clearly defined road map to follow when they start.

For existing employees who are not performing well, painting a picture of the perfect world for them, via job descriptions, will help them to see what their job is supposed to look like.

To make the point more clearly, consider one of your poor performers. Get them to work with someone who does the job well, so they can see an example of how the job should run.

In many ways, this “perfect world” description is an extension of the end result you have defined. If the person is able to achieve the end results to a very high degree, this “Perfect World” is a description of what things would look like.

In actual fact, it is a combination of the sub-results and activities involved with the job. And it is expressed in a way you would want it to run in the absolute ultimate situation.

For an Installation Technician, for instance, the perfect world might include:

  • All cables laid and control panels mounted with zero structural damage.
  • All connections made neatly and accurately in accordance with specification.
  • Work always completed ahead of allocated time.

The perfect world for a Sales Rep might look like this:

  • Sales targets are exceeded every month.
  • Customers are re-ordering because of the excellent sales support provided.
  • Referral sales are occurring on a regular basis.
  • All paperwork is accurately completed on time.

You can see that each of the above factors contributes to the overall result that has been defined for the job.

The perfect world statement can be much longer than is illustrated in the above examples. It needs to paint the picture of what things should look like when everything runs at peak efficiency and effectiveness. It need not be more than half a page, however; don’t overdo it.

It simply sets the scene in terms of what the new person should strive for. But it is a vital part of job descriptions.

What Else is Needed?

If you have done a good job at nailing down the explicitly-defined end result of the job, that’s the most important factor, by far.

Expanding this, by describing what things would be like in a “perfect world”, sets the scene for, and facilitates, a much broader understanding.

The next step is to list the specific tasks and areas of responsibility. This is more along the lines of a traditional job description and should be relatively easy to do after completing the above steps of the process.

As appropriate, include such factors as:

  1. Reporting structure.
  2. Financial authority.
  3. A specific list of duties.
  4. Number of staff reporting to a manager and each of their functions.

The Final Touch

To cap it all off, you now need to define the way in which the performance on this post will be measured .

This should be very self-evident by now.

  • If the end result is “increased market share”, that’s also the measure (expressed, maybe, as a percentage of market share).
  • If it’s “installations correctly completed on time”, then the measure could be “estimated labour cost against actual labour cost for correct installs”.
  • If the end result is “owed money collected on time”, the measure could be percentage of money collected on time each week.

Note that if you find it difficult to establish a valid measure, you may need to go back and re-look at the end result you established. If it’s not easily measurable, it may not be right on the button.

Steps of the Process

Here’s a summary of how you put job descriptions together, so they will have the desired impact:

  1. Most important: get the end result(s) of the job clearly defined in a net statement; expressed as a result, not an action. Spend as much time as you need to in order to get this one right.
  2. Extend the end-results statement to paint a picture of what the job would look like when everything was done absolutely perfectly. The employee will never reach this, of course, but they should know what they are shooting for.
  3. Add the remaining (traditional) elements of the job description: a specific list of duties, hours, reporting structure, etc.
  4. Define the way the job will be measured, which should be a direct reflection of the end results defined in the first step. If the method of measurement does not jump out and bite you, you may need to re-look at the end results you defined.

When hiring new staff, this process will help you get the right person for the job and ensure that they will have a clear path to take when they first begin.

For existing staff, a job description, constructed via this process, will help them focus on the results of their job and how the job should be performed.