The Importance of Job Descriptions

The Importance Of  Job Descriptions

 As a small to medium business owner or manager you may think that you have a million other things that are more important and useful to do rather than spending time developing job descriptions. You probably think your resources would be much better spent on tasks other than developing a document that has limited uses. However you could not be further from the truth.

Developing job descriptions is essential to the success and efficiency of your business. They create clarity. Clarity is one of the biggest reasons every role within your business should be defined via a job description. One of the biggest motivating factors (according to surveys and statistics) is clarity within the employee’s role. That is, they know what they’re supposed to do and how to do it. There’s no ambiguity, there’s no anxiety that “I think I should be doing something, or I’ve missed something”, and there’s no getting into trouble for not doing something that wasn’t made clear in the first place.

A job description, or position description, is a written statement explaining why a job exists, what the job holder actually does, how they do it and under what conditions the job is performed. One of the most important sets of documents that a business can have is a current and clearly expressed set of job/position descriptions.

Why have Job Descriptions

Job descriptions improve an organisation's ability to manage people and roles in the following ways:
  • Clarifies employer expectations for employee
  • Provides basis of measuring job performance
  • Provides clear description of role for job candidates
  • Provides a structure and discipline for company to understand and structure all jobs and ensure necessary activities, duties and responsibilities are covered by one job or another
  • Provides continuity of role parameters irrespective of manager interpretation
  • Enables pay and grading systems to be structured fairly and logically
  • Prevents arbitrary interpretation of role content and limit by employee and employer and manager
  • Essential reference tool in issues of employee/employer dispute
  • Essential reference tool for discipline issues
  • Provides important reference points for training and development areas
  • Provides neutral and objective (as opposed to subjective or arbitrary) reference points for appraisals, performance reviews and counselling
  • Enables formulation of skill set and behaviour set requirements per role
  • Enables organisation to structure and manage roles in a uniform way, thus increasing efficiency and effectiveness of recruitment, training and development, organisational structure, work flow and activities, customer service, etc
  • Enables factual view (as opposed to instinctual) to be taken by employees and managers in career progression and succession planning
  • Used in the recruitment process to assist you and the applicants to understand the role and what is required, ensuring that the selected person can properly commit to the job.

How to write a job description

The process of writing job descriptions is actually quite easy and straight-forward.  The most difficult part is the Key Responsibilities and Accountabilities section. Smaller businesses commonly require staff and managers to cover a wider or more mixed range of responsibilities than in larger organisations (for example, the 'office manager' role can comprise financial, HR, stock-control, scheduling and other duties). Therefore in smaller organisations, job descriptions might necessarily contain a greater number of listed responsibilities, perhaps 15-16. However, whatever the circumstances, the number of responsibilities should not exceed this, or the job description becomes unwieldy and ineffective.

If you have to create a job description from scratch, use this method to produce the responsibilities:

  1. Note down in a completely random fashion all of the aspects of the job.
  2. Think about: processes, planning, executing, monitoring, reporting, communicating, managing people/resources/activities/money/information/inputs/outputs/ communications/time. Many people tend to start off with a list of 20-30 tasks, which is okay as a start, but this needs refining to far fewer points, around 8-12 is the ideal.
  3. Next combine and develop the random collection of ideas into a set of key responsibilities. (A junior position will not need more than 8. A senior one might need 15.) You will find that you can cluster most of the tasks on your (initially very long) list into a list of far fewer broad (but still specific) responsibilities areas, such as the list below.
  • Communicating (in relation to whom, what, how - and this is applicable to all below)
  • Planning and organizing (of what..)
  • Managing information or general administration support (of what..)
  • Monitoring and reporting (of what..)
  • Evaluating and decision-making (of what..)
  • Financial budgeting and control (of what..)
  • Producing things (what..)
  • Maintaining/repairing things (what..)
  • Quality control (for production roles normally a separate responsibility; otherwise this is generally incorporated within other relevant responsibilities) (of what..)
  • Health and safety (normally the same point for all job descriptions of a given staff grade)
  • Using equipment and systems (what..)
  • Creating and developing things (what..)
  • Self-development (normally the same point for all job descriptions of a given staff grade)

4. Rank them roughly in order of importance.
5. Have someone who knows or has done the job well check your list and amend as appropriate.
6. Double check that everything on the list is genuinely important and achievable.
7. Wherever possible refer the detail of standards and process to your 'operational manual' or 'agreed procedures' or 'agreed standards' rather than allowing the job description to become a sort of operating manual.

When putting a job description together there is no standard format used, it just depends on management preference and how the job description will be used.

Developing strong job descriptions and keeping them up to date is time well spent. Creating your organization's job descriptions ahead of time can lead to success for your business. Whether you're a small business or a large, multi-site organization, well-written employee job descriptions will help you align employee direction. Alignment of the people you employ with your goals, vision, and mission spells success for your organization. As a leader, you assure the inter-functioning of all the different positions and roles needed to get the job done for the customer.