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Developing Role Descriptions

Well written job descriptions can help to get everybody ‘pulling in the same direction’.

As an organization grows it becomes more challenging to maintain lines of communication and to ensure that all employees are aligned to the achievement of the same shared vision. 

The process of agreeing job descriptions should: 

  • flush out any misunderstandings about roles
  • ensure that there is no overlap between roles and 
  • help in placing people in jobs to which they are best suited. 

Developing or reviewing job descriptions should be a collaborative process with the employee. 

The following steps are suggested in order to develop/review a job description:

Step 1. Determine why the job exists

How does the job contribute to the achievement of future business objectives? Could it best be amalgamated with another role? Should it or elements of role be outsourced? 

Don’t skip this step. Just because a role is long established does not mean that it should continue to exist.

The ‘job should speak’ – resist temptation to define job roles to accommodate individuals, at least as a starting point. 

Step 2. Determine outcome based key accountabilities (max 5/7)

This should be a succinct list of key result areas informed by: 

  • Critical success factors for organization
  • Organizational values and behaviors
  • Duties and responsibilities 
  • Level of authority and reporting lines
  • Communication and relationship management standards for interaction with internal/external stakeholders and direct reports 

Step 3. Attach priority percentage weight to each accountability 

This step will identify those areas which are critical to the performance of the role and which are secondary. 

Step 4. Attach time allocation percentage to each accountability

There can be a tendency for certain employees to spend too much time on some areas of role which are (for example) more within his/her comfort zone at the expense of others. Prioritizing low grade administrative tasks rather than delivering on a new high priority initiative is a common example of this. 

Step 4 is a way to communicate expectations as to how the employee will allocate his/her  time. The order can be somewhat at variance to Step 3 due to the nature of the tasks involved

Step 5. Determine Knowledge and skills required to perform job. Examples 

  • technical skills 
  • problem solving
  • creativity 
  • ability to develop and follow processes and procedures
  • ability to delegate and motivate
  • time management.

Soft skills.Consider the ideal behaviors for the position and whether the jobholder requires a high level of ‘emotional intelligence’, say to deal with ‘difficult’ people, handle deadline pressure, sudden changes to priorities? 

If you are reviewing the role of an existing jobholder ask yourself if he/she has the required skills, experience, behavioral profile and emotional intelligence to be successful in the position going forward? Is there a personal development need or is he/she fundamentally unsuited to the role? 

Final job description should include the following headings:  

  • Title 
  • Role description(short)
  • Reporting line (Reports to …)
  • Key Accountabilities (prioritized) 
  • Key Performance indicators. 

As stated at the outset role development should ideally involve the jobholder. For example, the jobholder might be asked to produce a first draft of the job description based on guidelines provided.  This can  ‘flush out’ differences of opinion on the nature of the role. A good job description is an essential input to the recruitment process. 

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