In the last several blog posts, we have covered the struggles with common organizational structure paradigms and described a linear system of defining and understanding the functions of an organization instead. This post, the last in the series, drills further down into the functions to the individual hats or jobs of the individuals tasked to complete each function.
Our experience with common job descriptions is that they are usually poorly done and sourced in the history of the organization rather than on sound organizational theory and structure. The end result is that typical job descriptions are valuable only in comparing jobs to one another for purposes of deciding their worth (how much someone is paid), and often they don’t do that all that well.
In a previous post, I covered the technicalities of a creating a hat write-up. So in this post, I want to look more closely at some common shortcomings of job descriptions and how to avoid them.
Here are shortcomings that we find most frequently and their solutions:
- Job Descriptions Driven by History: early in an organization’s history, tasks that need to be done are often divided up based on who has interest, ability, aptitude and bandwidth. Therefore, a team member’s job is often a combination of several functions; a little sales, a little marketing, a little production etc. Those early beginnings often get memorialized into a job description and an organization chart. To avoid this, always write your hat descriptions based on unique functions to be performed, completely separated from the person performing them. In early years, one individual may be accountable for several functions or hats, but as the organization grows, hats written in this way can easily change hands as new staff come on board because they are written to describe a function, not a person.
- Combining Multiple Functions in a Single Job Description: Similar to the first shortcoming is creating a single job description that is made up of many unique functions. In #1 above, the job descriptions were created based on an individual employee’s tastes and skills. In this scenario, job descriptions become groups of tasks related on their commonalities. So for example many or all the functions of Sales are written into one job description. As the organization grows, however, the job descriptions written in this way are no longer functional. There are too many swelling hats trying to be worn by one player. The same solution for problem #1 applies to this situation. Create one hat write up for one function. You are free to assign as many hats to one individual as are needed and appropriate to fill their plate. Then as the organization grows, hats can be shuffled and redistributed to keep workloads realistic without whole job descriptions having to be rewritten.
- Lack of Defined Purpose: Employees desire to know more than simply “what to do”. They work harder and smarter if they are given clarity on why they do what they do, if they understand why their tasks are important to the organization. Answer the following question in each your hat write-ups: “what does this position add or what would be lost if the job were not done”.
- Defining the Task versus the Product: Job descriptions are typically written as descriptions of what to do vs what should be accomplished. In our experience, it is of much higher value to hold your employees accountable for a completion. Job descriptions written as tasks encourage micro-management, while the converse encourage innovation and autonomy, as well as accountability. What are the completions you are expecting? Most job descriptions don’t delineate this but knowing this is critical both for you and the employee.
- No Measures of Performance: There is a growing body of literature regarding the lack of value in annual performance evaluations, that they actually can do harm in terms of motivating and retaining employees. In addition to cementing a judgmental role for the supervisor, the judgments are usually subjective and considered by employees to be arbitrary and unfair. Add to this the fact that the basis for evaluating is not defined or made known to the employee, and you have a recipe for a bad meal. Wherever possible, hat write-ups should include defined objective statistics to measure performance on a job. Some examples include new prospects delivered to sales, interest paid on late payments or response time on IT tickets. You have to weigh the cost-benefit of gathering such statistics, but metrics give clarity to employees on what you consider to be important and what you are looking at in evaluating performance.
That is a solid sampling of the problems inherent in traditional job descriptions. Focus on creating hat write-ups that are function based and results driven, and both you and your staff will gain tremendous clarity on the work to be done.
We realize this series on structure has had a lot to take in, and can be a real paradigm shift in looking at your organization – from the broadest sense down to the individual job descriptions. If you are interested in a free conversation on where and how to focus your efforts on refining and improving your organization’s structure, drop us an email . We can help you plan out a series of steps to move forward and pass on some tools and samples to help.