The development of the job description as an organizational tool goes back a long ways – likely something that was created at the turn into the 19th century when factories were exploding and needing a way to organize work into specific tasks and responsibilities. Job descriptions were used to improve productivity to create streamlined and efficient workflows. As the number of jobs grew with multiple people doing the same or similar work, businesses tasked the HR side of their house to standardize job descriptions to outline the tasks, duties and hiring requirements that would keep the company compliant with a growing number of government regulations re: standardized work weeks, overtime pay requirements, workers compensation, and more recently a mandated benefit requirements. Today we still see a variety of JD formats with organizations differing in terms of their approach. We see some JDs written to reflect a strong focus on the administrative and compliance components of the JD. Others use format that focus on hiring new employees and/or managing their performance once hired. Most include a list of tasks, an even longer list of qualifications they must have in order to be hired. Most do the the JD basics and demonstrate intent to be compliant with regulatory requirements, when it comes to a tool that can be used to incent talented employees to become part of the team, traditional job descriptions often fall short. This blog is being written to offer some ideas for hiring managers to make their traditional job descriptions more relevant to today’s world of work. We will make the case that traditional job descriptions that focus on the work to be done rather than the results to achieve, need to be turned into more flexible and results focused formats when they are used as part of the recruiting process. We will point out the shifts in mindset that will be needed to make this change and how it will impact who and how we hire. Turning a TASK FOCUSED Job Description into a RESULTS FOCUSED Hiring Process Let’s start at the beginning – the bigger picture about the job and WHY it exists Most traditional recruiters have been trained that the first step in the recruiting process is to pin down the hiring manager’s wants and needs – all those WHAT questions re: the skills knowledge or experience they need (or want) to see in a candidate they are willing to hire. Recruiters were taught to get as specific as possible in describing the WHATs, while making sure the list didn’t get so long or unrealistic that the desired candidate doesn’t exist. The traditional job description played a significant role in a hiring process focused on the WHATs. Today, traditional hiring processes and the job descriptions that support those processes simply aren’t up to the challenge of recruiting top talent in today’s very fast moving marketplace. They are almost always outdated as soon as they are writing, and in a recruiting context they have a tough time inviting any kind of engagement with high talent candidates. They don’t stand out from the pack. Talented candidates always want to know the WHYs before they are willing to engage – how will they make a difference – and traditional job descriptions rarely provide that kind of messaging. And in pursuit of all those WHYS, its important to start with the bigger picture - what is the company’s mission? the teams’ goals? WHY does this job exist? What is it expected to contribute? Asking with the big picture to uncover the WHYs and messaging those whys to prospective candidates kick starts candidate engagement in ways the traditional job description never could. We would like to see every job description have information about the company mission and the team goals be the opening lines of each job description. Organize the list of TASKS into Areas of RESPONSIBILITY Most job descriptions will contain a fairly long list of the tasks that must be done by the person doing the job. One of the ways to move away from that long list of tasks, is to divide that list into Areas of Responsibility. We have a person on our team, for example, who touches several areas of our company with important results she is expected to achieve in Operations, Marketing, Recruiting, and Administration. By first organizing her work into specific areas, or buckets, we can more clearly describe the results she is expected to deliver in each area. Those results carry various levels of delegation and accountability ranging from work that “supports” the team’s results to full responsibility for the results that only she touches. Getting clear around the areas of responsibility and organizing them into visual buckets has both visual and motivational impact. Ask WHY each TASK is important/how it contributes to RESULTS The next step is to fill each of your responsibility buckets with a “list” of results the employee needs to produce. Most Responsibility Buckets have 2-3 results that are considered important – very doable and a welcomed deviation from that long list of tasks. To get clear on results, start with the tasks that fall into each bucket ask WHY these tasks are important – what are they expected to produce. As example, the JD for an Account Manager will almost always include the task of “meet with existing customers at least (once a month) or something similar. But why? For what reason? Is the goal to increase the number of products or services we sell to each customer? To anticipate and promote future business? To uncover and resolve small issues before they become problems? All of the above? What we see is that many of the job descriptions tend to get organized around descriptions of the tasks, and then go on to describe the goal. “Meet with key customers monthly in order to _______________________.” We recommend reversing this thought process, starting with results and working backwards to tasks. This job was created to - increase the number of products or services we sell to each customer. We do that with a variety of activities including (list the tasks). The focus should be on the RESULT, not the task – allowing the person who takes the job to develop new tasks, to redesign old tasks, or remove them altogether as their way of delivering the needed result, which really don’t change that often. In today’s world where new technologies can change processes “just like that” job descriptions built around tasks need to be updated every 2-3 months. Job descriptions built around RESULTS can stick around for a while. This may seem like a very adjustment in how to think about jobs and how we describe them, but the impact of this shift in how an organization performs can be significant. When the results an employee produces is placed at the center of how their work is talked about and evaluated, the ripple effect in productivity, resilience, and the ease with which people get motivated to “serve the cause” touches every corner of the organization. The whole organization suddenly becomes much less top down.
- For employees it encourages and empowers them to look for new ways to get work done, to face a new obstacle, to embrace a new technology.
- For the candidates applying for jobs, it is a way to engage them early in the hiring process, oftentimes blocking out competitive opportunities. Talented employees always want to be challenged. Talking with them about goals, not tasks, is a way to do that.
- For organizational leaders it is a messaging model that brings new life into the people side of their businesses by keeping employees engaged and motivated long after their hire date. Looking for ways to improve retention – try talking more about the whys instead of the what's.
- It requires a hiring manager to think clearly about their expectations, and
- To come face to face with all they know about how a new employee will experience their new job on a daily basis. What obstacles is the new hire likely to face? What performance support systems are in place/not in place?
- Make mistakes in how they describe their “preferred candidate” – missing some of the soft skills or talents important to hiring success
- Misrepresent the reality of the role, leading to early term turnovers
- Hire candidates who are good “fits” for the culture but lack the skills or talents needed to navigate the “context”
PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 45 years. A 5-time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction. PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.