This is the second installment in a series on job descriptions. In the first installment "The Essential Question" my premise is that the most important question to ask in writing a job description is “Why does this job exist?” Other ways of asking this question are: “What is the essential purpose of this job?” “What is the mission of this role?”
The answer to this question goes under the "Purpose" or "Job Summary" section at the top of the job description. I guess you could even title this section "Mission."
The next section comes under the heading: Responsibilities. For this section, I promote an "objectives" based description. The question asked is: “What are the objectives of this role?” In other words, what does this person accomplish in order to fulfill the purpose identified in the first question?
Then the same question is asked for each objective. "How is this objective accomplished?” In other words, what does this person do to accomplish this objective?
I have written job descriptions that are purely a list of objectives, generally at the C-level or in roles where there is a great deal of freedom and flexibility in how the job is done so long as certain objectives are met.
On the other hand, if you only describe the how without stating the objectives involved, then it becomes a job prescription and in my opinion pretty lifeless.
A job description is not a prescription for how the job should be performed, but a description of what the job looks like when it is being performed well. When you are reviewing a team member’s performance, you should be able to compare his/her performance to the job description to evaluate how well the job is being performed.
In writing an objectives-based job description, rather than merely listing “what” a person in the job is doing, you also state or imply “why.”
Example: In a recent search for a Vice President, Human Resources, the initial job description prepared by the CEO stated as one of the responsibilities: “Develop and implement training and development programs.” Nothing wrong with this. Except, to better reach his goals for his company and even for this hire, which involved reengineering the culture, we needed to be more explicit about what this role would bring to the organization. We were sort of working backwards, revising a job description rather than starting from scratch but I think the example is still relevant.
The mission for this role was "To be a proactive business partner to the executive leadership team in promoting a values-driven environment, an evolved culture and a highly engaged, empowered and competent workforce oriented toward impeccable customer-service."
I asked the question, “Why does this person develop and implement training and development programs?” He responded, “I want to have a learning culture in this company where people are continually growing and developing.” This supported his goal of having an empowered and competent workforce. This also tied into the values that were listed separately but were behind the "values-driven" part of the mission.
Improving customer service was a burning goal for this CEO, not only in terms of actions, but as part of the DNA of the company. He wanted people to have a customer-service mindset and orientation which then resulted in customer-service oriented behavior. He also wants this attititude and behavior to be reflected in how the company treats employees as well as how this is outwardly directed toward their customers. This influenced the messaging of the job description.
We restated the responsibility for training and development in this way:
“Develop and implement training and development programs to instill a learning culture into the organization and to promote an empowered, competent and customer service-oriented workforce.”
We could have merely stated two separate objectives as items on the job description:
- Promote a highly competent, customer service-oriented workforce
- Instill a learning culture into the organization
However, in this case, we wanted to set parameters around how this would be accomplished, i.e., the how. And since this particular “how” would accomplish two objectives, we grouped them together into one responsibility. We wanted it to be clear that it was through training and development that these objectives would be accomplished.
In this same job description, this responsibility:
Responsible for employee communications strategies and employee feedback
Formulate robust employee communications strategies and employee feedback mechanisms that promote an empowered and engaged workforce within an environment of trust and collaboration
In this instance, there was a lot of intentional redundancy in the language for a culture that was being reengineered.
You will note that the job description language I am using is “action-oriented.” In other words, focused on making something happen. This will be the topic of a future installment. No matter how wonderful a person your team member is, you evaluate them for what they do -- or "make happen" -- and as I stated earlier, you should be able to use the job description as a measure for evaluating performance.