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)

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