Do Your Employees Suck? Check Your Job Descriptions.

By Bernadette Eichner - Aug. 12, 2014
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Maria Sharapova, who can hit a tennis ball well enough to earn a pretty good living, once famously said: “I can’t please everyone. That’s not in my J.D., you know, not in my job description.”  Lucky Maria, she knows what her job is well enough to be able to confidently tell people what it isn’t.  So what does Maria have that many of we mere mortals don’t?  Apart from astounding talent, good looks and a heap of money in the bank that is!

It’s pretty simple really.  She has a clear goal and a coach to help her get there.  She knows what is expected of her, what she has to do to achieve the desired outcome and has performance checkpoints along the way – in the world of professional sport, her win:loss ratio tells her when she is getting it right and when she is not.

Knowing what is expected of us is the first step to having half a chance of “getting it right”, while not knowing is a major contributor to stress in our day to day lives.  As young children we knew the joy of pleasing our parents when we met, or exceeded, their expectations.  And what happened when we didn’t!  At school we had clear direction on what was expected of us and our school reports provided the feedback we needed.  Then there are Churches, law-makers and governments giving us rules to live by, with very clear consequences should we break them.  Even magazines and social media platforms present us with a bit of a roadmap of sorts, even if it is related to what one should wear, cook or look like to be in the winner’s circle of life!

Research tells us uncertainty around performance expectations and lack of feedback are major contributors to job stress, low job satisfaction and staff turnover and clearly spells out the cost to productivity and profit when these negative conditions are present in the workplace.

Free Guide: This article outlines how to write a job description that is clear, concise and accurately defines the role – in 5 simple steps. Download Now!

It is a no-brainer to me then, that in order to achieve productivity and profit targets, we would make sure each of our employees clearly understands what is expected of them, has the skills and tools to do the job, and is provided with feedback to enable them to improve and achieve at every opportunity.  The same research tells us that the mechanism by which we achieve this is a Job Description, or JD as it is known.

If this is so well known, why do so many employers not clearly spell out what is expected of each of their employees?  Are they sub-consciously setting a new hire up to fail because it makes them feel good?  Or perhaps it gives them the pleasure of having some of their prophecies fulfilled – you know the ones where they whine about no decent staff being available, no decent recruiters who know what they are looking for (see Paul’s open letter to hiring managers) and the one about how they just seem to be mopping up after new staff all the time because they are useless.

The most important thing about a JD is that it provides clarity – for everyone in the hiring and performance management process.  Employers have a clear understanding of what they need and the employee has a clear understanding of what is expected of them.  When employers are clear about what they need, attraction and selection strategies can be established, recruiters and/or hiring managers can be accurately briefed, setting the stage for a successful hiring outcome.  If everyone is working blind, we end up with three blind mice and we all know how well that went!  A clear JD ensures your new, appropriately skilled and experienced employee gets up to speed quickly, which is great for productivity and profit.

So, “where do I start?”, I hear you say.  There are literally hundreds of articles about how to write a JD and numerous formats you can choose from and the whole thing can be a bit overwhelming (I won’t go on to say most of these are written by HR Consultants who want you to think it is too hard to do yourself).  The truth is, it is not as difficult or time consuming as many of you think.  The easiest way to build a JD is to simply ask yourself a series of questions and write down the answers:

1.   What do I need the person to do?

Make a shopping list of the tasks that the employee will be expected to do on a day to day basis.  And don’t forget to include the less enjoyable ones, like making sure the kitchen is clean and tidy if that is what you wish them to do!  The important thing is that you don’t make the job out to be something that it is not.  Everyone loses in this scenario.

2.  What skills and experience will they need to have?

Look at your shopping list and be honest about what skills and experience the person will need to be able to perform well in the role.  While you will probably wish them to be degree qualified and perhaps even have a couple of years experience, does a Junior Accountant really need to be CPA qualified?  Perhaps that could be further study they undertake in order to be considered for a promotion in the future.

3.  What type of person works best in our organisation?

Warning – this is not an invitation to breach the Anti-Discrimination Act!  Apart from the legal consequences of excluding certain people from the process based gender, age, race or any other number of discriminatory items, I wrote recently about the economic disadvantages of stereotyping when hiring.  But it is OK to be honest about the personality type that seems to get along better than others in your workplace.

4.  How many hours per day/week do I need them to be here?

This is important.  Is the job really full-time?  Perhaps you really only need someone 20 or 30 hours a week?  Or on the other hand, are you expecting this person to do the work of two people and the hours of work will be more like 50?  Again, be clear about what the expectation is here.  I’ll give you a friendly heads-up though – working people into fatigue and anxiety isn’t smart business.

5.  Who will they be working with?

Be clear about the key relationships you expect the person to have.  If they are in an admin role but need to liaise regularly with the Head of Logistics about delivery dockets being checked off, then make this clear to the person from the outset.  It will save you time,  money and a lot of angst down the track.

6.  Who will they report to?

This is a key decision to be made.  This is the most important workplace relationship an employee will have – employees need to know who they are being evaluated by and who they can seek assistance from in their efforts to be the best they can be in the job.  And just as importantly, the reporting manager needs to clearly understand who he/she is “responsible” for.

7.  How will I reward them?

Clarity around remuneration is critical for everyone concerned.  If you are unsure about the salary the role should attract, ask your recruiter (if you are using one) or go online – most countries have industry associations which provide guidance about remuneration packages on their websites.  If you already have similar roles in your organisation, then benchmark the new role against those, taking into account skills and experience.  A good idea is to have a salary band attached to each type of role in your company and have skills, experience and company tenure linked to each salary point in the band.

Imagine what your company can achieve if everyone in it knows what they are there to do and has the skills to do it?

Game, set and match.

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.


Bernadette Eichner

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.

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