Sunday, May 30, 2010

Finding the 'Real Value' Behind the Simple Job Description

Peter Grant (1997) found that “many employees complain that their job descriptions do not accurately reflect the expectations management has of them. In a study, 200 non-managerial employees, both permanent and temporary, were surveyed in 60 different organisations. 85% of them said that their job descriptions were quite deficient as a tool for helping them learn what they were supposed to do for the organisation. Most said their job descriptions were incomplete, vague, or both. About 70% said that key elements of their jobs were left out of their job descriptions,” (p.9)

The job description is extremely valuable to all organisations, regardless of size and maturity, but only if developed and implemented correctly. The job description links directly to the corporate strategy, through the training and development of the human resource, performance management, performance appraisals, succession planning and impacts directly on the future growth of the organisation.

A job description goes way beyond a simple list of tasks and should always include;

1. A clear description of the primary objective of the job function.

2. A list of the key accountabilities of the job function; where these must be clear and unambiguous.

3. The key indicators that the incumbent will use to measure how successfully they are performing their job and how effectively they are managing their areas of accountability - where their key indicators are directly linked to the strategic objectives of the organisation.

When developed correctly each employee, at all levels, will clearly own and understand the impact they have on the overall strategic goals of the organisation, through their key accountabilities and key indicators.

An effective job description will always be supported by a person specification, which clearly identifies the core skills and experience that is required to perform the job function at a satisfactory level. The skills and experience can be managerial, behavioural and technical, and will highlight the ‘minimum’ qualifications (both formal and informal) and specific practical experience required. Thus the person specification not only aids the recruitment function, but links to career development and succession planning.

Job descriptions are developed from the top down, starting with the Board of Directors and rolled down through the organisation. This simple task, if done well, will often highlight immediate development needs throughout the organisation, even at the Executive level, where the incumbent does not have some of the specific skills required for their current job. Rather than seeing this as a ‘threat’ it should be seen as an ‘opportunity’ to make sure all your people, at all levels, have the skills needed to complete their functions efficiently – guaranteeing in the process an immediate improvement in organisational performance and growth.

On a point of caution, there is often a temptation when reviewing job descriptions, to look at what the person, in the job, does now – and justifying it – rather than looking at what the ‘job’ should entail and how this might change in the short-term. You then develop job descriptions and person specifications around what you want from the job, rather than what you have in the person.

As can be seen, developed correctly, the ‘humble’ job description, supported by a well thought out person specification, directly impacts key elements of organisational performance, including;

Corporate Strategy
Performance Management
Career Development
Succession Planning
Training and Development
Organisational Development

Mike Marino (2005) suggests that “job descriptions are an integral part of staff management, yet tend to be glossed over, probably because many managers simply don’t have an accurate understanding of their importance and uses,” (p.26). So it might be worth finding those job descriptions you have somewhere, blowing off the dust, and viewing them in a new light. A well developed job description will have an immediate impact on organisational development.


Grant, P.C. (1997). Job Descriptions: What’s Missing. Industrial Management, Vol. 39, Issue 6, p.9-13.

Marino, M. (2005). Understanding the importance of job descriptions: How to put them in writing. Public Relations Tactics, Vol. 12, Issue 2, p.26.

(This topic was requested by Bobbi Cochius at Global Warming Pty Ltd)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Great Leaders Empower Their Staff

Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying that “as a leader, I have always endeavoured to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Often, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the axiom: a leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind.”

In a brilliant article in this months Harvard Business Review Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown remind us that “some bosses stifle their employees and some make them shine”. They mention that, unfortunately, “some leaders drain all the intelligence and capability out of their teams” (p.117). These are the type of ‘leaders’ who have to be right; always have the last word and never encourage ideas because they feel threatened by others. These are people who have been promoted into leadership positions, without understanding the basics of leadership – which is about developing others and not stifling them for ones own benefit.

Strong and effective leaders know when to be humble, recognise the individual strengths of each and every member of their teams and most of all encourage everyone to contribute their ideas, accepting that every individual has value to add to the organisation, (which is why they were recruited in the first place).

Amar, Hentrich and Hlupic (2009) found in their research that, “companies reliant on knowledge and innovation should abandon the traditional structure in which decision rights are reserved for people at the top. Furthermore, they found that contrary to what many CEO’s assume, leadership is not really about delegating tasks and monitoring results; it is about instilling the entire workforce with a sense of responsibility for the business”, (p.23). This means that the organisation is always more important than the individual – where creating sustainable growth for the organisation will create growth for their employees.

Leadership as a concept is often made more complicated than necessary – great leaders empower their employees to ‘be creative’ and to ‘challenge’ the status quo of the organisation – this leads to a highly motivated workforce, which is focused on innovation and continuous improvement. Poor leaders hide behind their power to stifle ideas, fearful that creative energy will only highlight their own weaknesses.

Wiseman and McKeown define effective leaders in their research as ‘multipliers’ and found that multipliers manage and influence five main areas of organisational development – “talent, culture, strategy, decision making and execution”, (p.118). They conclude their article by stating that “when you invite people’s best thinking and lead like a multiplier, your team will give you more – more discretionary effort, more mental and physical energy, and more fresh ideas critical for long-term success”, (p.121).


Amar, A.D., Hentrich, C. and Hlupic, V. (2009). To Be a Better Leader, Give Up Authority. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 87, Issue 12, p.22-24. [online], last update unknown. Available:

Wiseman, L. and McKeown, G. (2010). Bringing Out the Best in Your People. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 88, Issue 5, p.117-121.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Getting Real Value from Customer Value Propositions

A 2004 survey by Strativity concluded that 50% of salespeople don’t actually know what features and benefits actually justify the prices of the products and/or services they sell, (D’Aveni, 2007).

The Customer Value Proposition (CVP) allows organisations and their sales people to complete a detailed review of the products and/or services they offer and compare these to their competition. Of course, in order to complete a CVP you must first ensure that you have a detailed understanding of your customer’s requirements and expectations.

A CVP compares your product and/or service offering with the next best alternatives and looks at four distinctive areas;

1. Positive points of difference – which lists the features that are superior to the next best alternatives;
2. Points of parity – which lists features that are comparable with the next best alternatives;
3. Negative points of difference – which lists the features that are inferior to the next best alternatives; and
4. Points of contention – which lists the features where you disagree with your customer about the benefits of these particular features. Where in some cases you may consider them superior to the next best alternatives and your customer disagrees, or just as important where you may consider them inferior to your competition and the customer disagrees.

Developed correctly the CVP gives an organisation a clear picture of how their products and/or services compare to those of their competition. As with all business tools CVP’s are created in a dynamic environment - where you must look beyond the next best competitive alternative and assess all current and potential product offerings that directly impact your market. It’s better to analyse your product and service offerings against all competitors just to make sure that you are not over simplifying the analysis.

When considering benefits it’s important to consider both the tangible and intangible benefits and correctly interpret the customer’s perception of these intangible benefits, including what they are prepared to pay for them. Also, don’t assume what is ‘good’ for the customer today will be ‘good’ for the customer tomorrow.

CVP’s are used to show an existing or potential customer how your product and service offerings are better than the other alternatives and how your product is best for their needs.

Imagine the full potential, both internally and externally, of developing and understanding your CVP’s and how these can be transformed into a very powerful presentation for your existing and potential customers? You will not only show that your organisation understands your customers needs but also how your product and/or service will exceed their requirements. Also you convey, through the depth of knowledge and research, that you are fully aware of the current market and all the alternative offerings.

Finally, remember that “each value proposition must be;
1. Distinctive – must be superior to those of the competition;
2. Measurable – all value propositions should be based on tangible points of difference that can be quantified in monetary terms; and
3. Sustainable – the company must be able to execute their value proposition for a significant period of time. (Anderson, Narus, and van Rossum, 2006, p.98)”

Customer Value Propositions exist in a dynamic world and must be reviewed and developed on a regular basis, so that they continue to add value to your organisation and your customers.


Anderson, J.C., Narus, J.A. and van Rossum, W. (2006). Customer value propositions in business markets. Harvard Business Review, March, p.91-99.

D’Aveni, R.A. (2007). Mapping your competitive position. Harvard Business Review, November, p. 110-120.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

You Can Have The Career You've Always Wanted

“Life has no limitations, except the ones you make” – Les Brown.

How’s your career working out? As you look back, have you achieved the goals you set yourself or do you regret the opportunities that have passed you by?

Many people give up on their career aspirations, which become distant memories from a seemingly past life or long lost childhood dream. Some lose faith and give up at the first hurdle because, for example, they aren’t accepted for their ‘dream’ job or don’t get that first promotion – occasionally blaming the system or someone else, rather than analysing what happened, assessing why things went wrong, fixing the problem and trying again.

In my early teens I wanted to be a Marine Biologist; the trouble was I was useless at Biology – which didn’t bode well for my dream from the outset. I also wasn’t your model student, studying just seemed to get in the way of fun. It was my choice, even at that age – I could have had my dream if I was prepared to work for it – but it just appeared too damn hard.

As it turns out I might not have enjoyed it anyway and my career path, with the usual potholes and a few detours, actually took me on a great journey of learning into a career I thoroughly enjoy.

From my experience these nine steps will help you have the career you always wanted;

1. Know who you are, challenge yourself and create short and long-term goals. Not having goals is like going on a journey without a destination.

2. Never give up – the easy route is not always the most rewarding. Accept that you will be challenged as you pursue your ideal career, so accept it, it won’t always be a walk in the park. You hardly ever get anything worthwhile handed to you on a plate – you’ll have to work really hard and if you don’t succeed at the first attempt, try, try again (borrowed from Robert the Bruce).

3. Don’t burn your bridges – I’ve burnt a few and regret it to this day. Your career will often be influenced by who you know and who knows you. Your network of contacts (from the past to the present) can often influence your career.

4. Make sure that your friends are true friends and that they’ll tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. Honest feedback keeps your feet placed firmly on the ground and the head out of the clouds.

5. Try new things – you never know what new opportunities might open up for you.

6. Never stop learning – that doesn’t necessarily mean formal courses with exams and things (I still don’t particularly like exams to this day) – but don’t let stubbornness or pride get in the way of doing what you have to do to succeed – humility can be a healthy experience.

7. Know your strengths and weaknesses and the impact these have on your future. Where your weaknesses restrict you reaching your goals – either work on your weaknesses or change your goals. Just don’t mindlessly continue on a journey where you’ll never reach your destination - that’s like taking a flight with enough fuel for 2,000 km’s when you need to fly 10,000 km’s – it isn’t going to end well.

8. There is definitely a degree of luck – you just have to keep your eyes and ears open for the opportunity. It’s my belief that we miss opportunities every day.

9. It’s never too late - whether in your thirties, forties, fifties and beyond, you can change your career and realise your dream. Why? Because you’ll be working towards something you want to achieve and will be mature enough to know that it won’t be easy but will be worth the effort.

McLoughney (2009) reminds us that “you run the risk of missing out on important opportunities because you haven’t completed the necessary research or developed the required skills. Without a plan you simply hope that your career will move forward. To become a master of today’s overcrowded job market you need to change your mindset, become visionary and exploit the factors that make you different, capable and of winning work” (p.70).

Having read this article, take some time to look at your career and to set yourself new goals for the years ahead.

Remember the words of Kerry Packer, “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal,” so make the most of it. Good luck and enjoy the journey.


Kanter, J. (2003). Planning and Managing Your Career. Information Strategy: The Executive’s Journal, Vol. 19, Issue 2, p.43-48.

McLoughney, S. (2009). Staying Ahead Planning your Career the Entrepreneurial Way. Accountancy Ireland, Vol. 41, Issue 6, p.70-71.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Benefits of Performance Management

Just the words Performance Management can send a shiver up the spine of many managers and employees, as it creates images of ‘big sticks’, ‘angry leaders’ and ‘people being driven on to achieve unattainable targets’; where performance management seems to get more attention when things aren’t going well and less attention when business is good.

Performance management is often misunderstood and far from being a method for ‘bullying’ and ‘setting unattainable targets’ it is a principle, which if adopted correctly has significant impact on business performance, as it links directly to the corporate strategy, corporate governance and enterprise risk management. Likierman (2009) mentions that one of the main problems is “the people managing performance frameworks are generally not experts in performance management. A really good assessment system must bring finance and line managers into some kind of meaningful dialogue that allows the company to benefit from both the relative independence of the former and the expertise of the latter” (p.101).

Performance management isn’t just about reporting figures and goes beyond the confines of the organisation to look at competitors and your industry sector, to identify meaningful benchmarks on which actual performance can be measured and assessed.

At the micro measurement level you’ll hear terms like key result indicators or key performance indicators. These key indicators, if correctly identified and implemented (and linked to the corporate strategy); allow directors, managers and staff to assess their strategic progress against key measures. In some cases, although key indicators are developed within the organisation, the understanding of how they link and impact on corporate strategy is left unexplained. This creates a culture of compliance rather than ownership, which never leads to the optimum results. In other cases these key indicators become static measures that don’t change over time, which leads to the methodology being blamed for not working, rather than the organisation being blamed for not working the methodology.

Performance management systems, if misunderstood or poorly implemented, can lead to an overload in the generation of meaningless information and reports, as the organisation develops itself into a state of information and statistical overload, simply for the sake of it. The creation of ‘silo’ key indicators at the functional/departmental level will create a further overload of data that does not integrate across the organisational structure and can often create a multitude of different approaches to measure the same indicator.

To make key indicators work effectively they must be reviewed as part of the strategic development process and become an integral part of the strategic implementation. The only key indicators that should exist within an organisation are those that offer management an effective measure against the strategic goals. Key indicators should be common across functions and integrated effectively (Brownbill, 2009, p.97-98).

The concept of dashboards and scorecards is an effective methodology for visually depicting performance at a corporate or functional level. Used correctly they can be a very powerful visual and motivational tool. However these methods can become lost within the day-to-day business activities and rather than becoming motivational, can become de-motivational as dashboards/scorecards don’t get updated or are incorrect.

At the macro level performance management links to corporate governance and risk management by identifying the critical success factors that need to be monitored to allow effective scrutiny of business performance. As van der Stede (2009) mentions, the link between performance and risk management “is not only about ensuring bad things don’t happen, but equally about making sure that good things do happen.”

Finally Barbara Bowes (2009) reminds us that, “there’s now good evidence to show that, if performance management systems are in place and implemented effectively, revenues, shareholder value, employee satisfaction and investor interest will increase. In fact, the HayGroup recommends that management create opportunities for dialogue so that employees can challenge, interpret and shape their goals, and become motivated toward higher productivity,” (p.13).


Bowes, B. (2009). Improving Performance Management Systems. CMA Management, Vol. 82, Issue 9, p.12-13.

Brownbill, N. (2009). Be the Best in Business. ACC: Cape Town

Likierman, A. (2009). The Five Traps of Performance Management. Harvard Business Review. Vol. 87, Issue 10, p.96-101.

Van der Stede, W.A. (2009) Enterprise Governance: Risk and Performance Management through the Business Cycle. CMA Management, Vol. 83, Issue 3, p.24-27.