Do You Need Job Descriptions?

If you have ever asked this question, you are not alone. This question comes up frequently with small to mid-sized businesses. Many employers are concerned and ask: “Won’t a job description just make it harder for me to add other duties to an employee?” The short answer to that is, no. “Other duties as assigned” is in nearly every job description for a reason.

Many small business owners are forced to have conversations with employees about things they need an employee to do, but have never clearly communicated to the team member. This elicits the response “that’s not my job.” When an employee does not believe that a function or task is part of their job, it makes the performance appraisal and disciplinary process very difficult.

While not every job needs a description, we are going to think about the 85% of them that do. It is really quite simple, if you don’t have a description of a job, how do you hold someone accountable to doing the job well?

There are some people out there who think that writing job descriptions does more harm than good. The potential liability being that you could box someone in and not free the person up to do more, or maybe not attract the right candidates. There is merit to these ideas in certain situations, but I think this applies to a small portion of job openings.

The truth is that not writing job descriptions makes it much more difficult to get the work that you expect from someone done. While there are certain jobs that require the freedom and creativity to not be “boxed in” by a description, these jobs are the minority.

Three reasons why you need job descriptions

Aligning work with company goals

If you have a vision and goals for your company, you want to make sure everyone is working towards that. If you don’t have a vision with goals that are set to achieve the mission, go back to square one and start there. Come back to this article when you are done.

Keep the organizational plan in mind as you write job descriptions and evaluate the importance of the work being done in relation to achieving those desired outcomes. This process will not only help you to make sure that the job is being done well, but that you are also moving towards your vision.

Measuring success

Not having job descriptions can make the talent management process more difficult than it needs to be. When you are trying to implement or maintain a performance review process, having a “template” for what the job looks like when performed well makes it much easier to measure the success of the employee.

Create a job description that matches the desired outcomes from the role in relation to organizational success. Make sure the job description is communicated clearly to all new hires, and measured appropriately by management. When you perform these steps, the performance review process becomes much easier.

Manage the system, not the people

In the book eMyth, we learn about the value of managing systems, not people. If you do not have a job description in place, you do not have a system to manage and then you are forced to manage each employee individually.

The job description becomes the job posting, becomes the foundation for interview questions, becomes the performance review, and on and on. When you establish the system and foundation, it makes the process and the people easier to manage.

Creating job descriptions can help you to define a role as you want it and need it to function with your organization. Job descriptions can also build the foundation for a seamless recruiting process where applicants know what the job is and will be from posting to fruition.

Six core components of a job description

  • Job Title: The title you select should reflect the duties of the job. It should also indicate where the employee will fit into the business hierarchy (i.e. a senior or assistant position).
  • Position Summary: Give a brief overview that contains information on essential duties, specific skills or licenses needed, special equipment used in the position, and physical abilities necessary to perform the job.
  • Responsibilities and Tasks: Start with the most important task or the one to which the employee will devote the largest share of his or her time. State the major tasks and, if necessary, the sub-tasks that are essential for the position.
  • Qualifications: Itemize the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that an individual must have to perform the job duties.
  • Supervision: Indicate how this position is supervised or to whom the person in this position will report.
  • Work Environment: Give an idea of the nature of the working conditions (i.e. how much work is performed inside vs. outside, the type and condition of equipment to be used, etc.)

Your chances of successfully attracting and retaining top talent become much greater if you paint an accurate picture of the job and communicate these expectations clearly to a prospective employee. Written job descriptions are an important aid to employee communication throughout the employee lifecycle.

Having job descriptions in place can save you from some really tough conversations down the road. By establishing a foundation for what the job is and what the expectations are, you can put the employee and supervisor in a place to succeed.

Thanks for reading!
Matt

PS: If you are looking for help writing job descriptions, check out our HR Support Membership.

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