Job Descriptions – Really?

One of the most disliked practices at small businesses is the writing of job descriptions.  If there is one thing that reminds an entrepreneur of a big, bureaucratic biz is when they hear that they need to write a job description for each position in his/her company.  While not fun, there are a necessity and can provide a great deal of long-term value to a firm.

A recent blog post at the Founder Institute site (Link:  Definitive Guide to Crafting an Effective Job Description) was a good primer on writing job descriptions.  However, after reading the blog post, I found that what is described is the traditional method of writing a description which probably serves the needs, both legally and human resource-wise, but limited in the same way that most other articles on job descriptions are.  Mainly, they fail to effectively align the overall strategic mission and goals of the firm and unit to the job.  Instead, we generally get the same old description of what someone should do in this job without any coherent linkage to broader picture.

There is a more effective way to write a job description that defines a position, especially managerial and executive positions, in way that is well-tied to the strategic objectives of an organization, provides specific action goals and responsibilities and covers the bases that a traditional description does.The SMART method of hiring as outlined executive recruiters Geoff Smart and Randy Street in their book ‘Who’ focuses on providing simple, practical, and effective solutions to unsuccessful hiring.

In their book, Smart and Street discuss “the A Method” that  stresses fundamental elements that anyone can implement–and it has a 90 percent success rate.  In relation to job descriptions, the authors emphasize that a position (especially a managerial or executive level) must have three things:  Mission for the Position, Outcomes that need to be accomplished, Competencies that fit the role and culture.

Similar to the company’s mission, the position mission must specifically state what the company wants the position to accomplish.  For instance, Smart and Street use the example of a Vice President, Sales position where the mission is:    “To double our revenues over three years by signing large profitable contracts with industrial customers.  Develop a sales team to land new accounts.”

The mission is aligned with the organization’s mission and has specific goals that can be achieved and measured against.  These goals or ‘outcomes’ are usually part of the mission but also provided in greater detail to serve as evaluative criteria for the position.  Relating to the VP example, the authors note the outcomes with the position (usually 3-8 in number) were:

  • Grow Revenue $25M to $50M in three years.
  • Increase Profit Margin from 9% to 15% by year 3.
  • Hire 2 key positions by end of year 1 – Director of Outside Sales, Director of Inside Sales.
  • Fire any sales rep who doesn’t make quota by end of year 1.
  • Deliver monthly forecast reports that are 90% accurate

The  outcomes are broad yet specific and measurable.  They don’t dictate how they should be achieved but only the results sought.

Finally, an effective job description should cite the competencies needed to perform the job.  While MISSION defines ‘essence of job’ and OUTCOMES define what must be accomplished, the  COMPETENCIES define how you expect a new hire to operate to achieve the outcomes.  Smart and Street use the example of competencies for a CEO that they see in most CEO positions:

  • Efficiency
  • Honesty/Integrity
  • Organization and planning
  • Aggressiveness
  • Follow-through on commitments
  • Intelligence
  • Analytical Skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Persistence
  • Proactivity

 

Once the description is set up as suggested by the authors you now have a set of criteria and goals that can easily help market the position, match the position to a recruit’s background, develop a more streamlined process for interview and selection and also serve as the foundation for evaluating the person once hired in their position.  Finally, it better aligns the position to the overall strategy and mission of the firm.

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