As a busy person with a lot on your plate, you might find yourself wondering, “Why should I bother with writing job descriptions? They take too much time to write and are too constraining for a growing, flexible business. Aren’t they just unnecessary bureaucracy?”
In reality, when well-designed, these brief one to two-page documents can be one of your greatest management tools. They can save you time, save your company money, improve performance, streamline operations, and aid in organizational change.
Let’s talk about how these mighty pages work their magic.
What is a Job Description?
A job description is just what its name states: a description of a job. A job description typically contains – at the minimum – the position’s responsibilities; a list of knowledge, skills, and abilities; minimum and preferred education and experience required to do the job; and physical requirements, such as heavy lifting.
Job descriptions are business tools. As with any other tool, you should not start using them without a clear understanding of how they add to or detract from the goals of your business.
What’s Their Value?
Job descriptions are the basis for many HR functions, including, but not limited to:
- Performance management
- Recruiting and selection
- Training and development
- Aiding in compliance with laws such as Fair Labor Standards Act and Americans with Disabilities Act
- And more!
Here are a handful of examples of how job descriptions earn their keep.
In regard to determining pay, it’s unwise to look for comparable salary data based on a job title alone. A “Manager” in your business could be doing work that is equivalent to another organization’s “Team Leader”. If you used manager data, you’d be overpaying your employee, who should be paid at the team lead level. This is one way that job descriptions can save you money!
The reverse can happen – you could end up underpaying people as well. Having well-written job descriptions (or at least job summaries) are essential for getting compensation right, which is a key component to attracting and retaining top talent! This saves you time and money.
In order to perform at a high level, a person needs to correctly understand the expectations that the company has of him/her. The most reliable way to make expectations clear is to put them in writing. This will save you time by making sure you’re not repeating job expectations verbally.
Although a job description can’t contain all of the expectations of an employee, it is the basis for the expectations for one particular job. It can and should be used as a point of reference when discussing past and future performance. This clarity will improve job performance and productivity.
When designing and redesigning the structure of your business or organization, having job duties in writing is a good way to uncover duplication of effort. You may have similar tasks being performed across multiple positions, which if bundled could significantly streamline your operations.
In regard to hiring, having a well-written job description ready when a position opens up means that you can write a job posting and get the word out to potential candidates quickly. Filling jobs fast saves time for you and others who have to take on extra work while you wait to fill a vacant slot. An open position often has an impact on the bottom line in terms of lost revenue, so filling jobs quickly saves money.
I’m hoping you’re starting to see that creating job descriptions is a worthwhile investment.
The Case for Clarity, Flexibility, and Speed
Now let’s consider the claim that job descriptions create organizational inflexibility.
Small businesses and startups pride themselves on living on the fly and an all-hands-on-deck approach to work. At the same time, people need clarity to ensure they are doing the right things.
Beyond all the purposes of a job description listed above, clarity is the single most important of all of them, even if the above business reasons didn’t exist.
Job descriptions are roots for employees. They provide a strong base that grounds them to the focus of their position, even as the winds of change blow strong and the environment they are in is evolving continually. In this way, job descriptions support organizational change rather than detract from it.
If employees are clear about their role and boundaries it frees them up to use energy, not to determine what they should be doing and why, but to unleash their creativity and discover new ways to do things.
Some people argue that they hired someone because of their education and experience and that they better know what it takes to do the job. To not provide a common set of expectations sets the individual – and, as a result, your department or company – up to fail. Why wouldn’t you provide clear direction if you can? By doing this, you will avoid losing your top-performing people. What better time and money saver is there?
Why Not Now?
Without a doubt, it will take a bit of time to create effective, well-written job descriptions, but likely not as long as you think they will. By engaging the people who do the job in the process, it is an opportunity for a deep discussion about their role in the organization and what they bring to the job.
Fall is a great time to write or update job descriptions. If this is your organization’s budget time, job descriptions are the basis for compensation, which is typically one of the largest expense items a company has.
Year-end is also often a common time for organizations to have formal performance evaluations. What a great time to have a discussion about the purpose and duties involved in a job!
Be sure to read How Job Descriptions Can Promote Engagement to learn more benefits of these wonderful documents!
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