A job description is meant to tell the person in the job and other interested parties what to expect from the job. What is this job all about? How will we know we are doing a good job? How do we hire for this job?
But a job description does a rather poor–um–job of it. That’s because most job descriptions are just lists of tasks (sometimes labeled duties or responsibilities) to be performed.
Here are 10 reasons why job descriptions as lists of tasks don’t work.
- Lists of tasks are hard to understand and manage because every job has dozens to hundreds of things that might be done.
- Lists of tasks are static. What might be the appropriate thing to do now may be wrong, ridiculous, or unnecessary in the future.
- Lists of tasks don’t capture priorities. How would we know which tasks could be deferred or ignored? How do we know what work is critically important?
- Lists of tasks can’t tell people where they should spend more of their time and where they should spend less.
- Lists of tasks miss how, often, our highest priority work may demand the least amount of our time.
- Lists of tasks say what to do or how to do it. They don’t explain why.
- Lists of tasks were an adequate way of describing jobs in the past when everyone worked in the factory or in factory-like desk jobs. In the factory, we did exactly what we were told. Over and over. The boss did the thinking. Today, we all have to do the thinking.
- Lists of tasks can’t guide our thinking. Jobs today include expectations like, “Ensure that board meetings run efficiently. Psst! By the way: the board has at least two wingnuts who try to wreck everything.”
- Lists of tasks don’t give people enough room to do things their way. We are hiring them for their talents, experience, and values. Why prevent them from using them?
- Lists of tasks can be accomplished (mostly or in full) and still the person doing the job can fail because they aren’t delivering desired results. And the person will feel unjustly criticized because they were busy doing the outlined tasks.
In the end, we will fire people for lack of results not lack of ticking off boxes. We all want the results. Let’s dump job descriptions start by defining roles based on desired results.
In your corner,
PS: A superb place to start is with our own role. Try writing three to five statements that describe how, at the end of the year, we will know you have done your job well. What will be true as a result of your work?