A new perspective: Do job descriptions hurt productivity?


Excelling at a job and performance isn’t necessarily the same thing. Here’s why you can be meticulous in your work, cover all the key result areas (KRAs) of job descriptions – and still underperform.

Plenty of people are doing what’s required of them – based on their job description – but are failing to perform. This can work in reverse too; you can be performing brilliantly without necessarily following the exact requirements specified in job descriptions. This is because performing in an organisational context is more than completing the tasks cited in the job description.

Here, I will illustrate the problems the job description creates for six HR management practices.

1. Recruitment and selection

Unless the employee is recruited internally, the first contact HR has with a new employee is during the selection process, typically in an interview. The conventional practice of selecting the suitable candidate is based upon the job-related criteria in the job description. Though standard practice, over-reliance on the job description can backfire with disastrous consequences. What doesn’t make sense is the exclusive reliance on the job’s task-related competencies to select a new employee, when a whole realm of competencies are required for high performance

2. Induction

Most new employees meet a new job with a mix of excitement and apprehension on day one; eager to learn and receptive to new information and to the environment they are exposed to. This early stage of the employment cycle is a golden opportunity to positively shape and mold a set of productive habits and break old, unhelpful habits in a new employee.

A thorough on-boarding program includes a mix of information and exposure, including information relevant to completing the requirements of the job, the company’s policies and processes and matters pertinent to the team or department the employee is part of. However while there is a strong emphasis towards preparing the new employee to undertake their job role, there is less emphasis placed on preparing the employee for their organisational role: further entrenching the importance of job tasks. From this early experience onwards, the new employee is given the impression that non-job roles and their competencies are comparatively less important to their success.

3. Training and development

When an employee passes the probationary period, they are exposed to training and development opportunities. Most of these are technical training programs designed to improve current and future job competencies. Training programs that build non-job competencies, such is team development, are more prevalent than they once were, but are still less valued than job competency development.

4. Remuneration

When it comes to evaluating pay rises, we again tend to rely on the strict letter of the job description to inform our decision. This is done under the guise of ‘fairness’ and ‘impartiality’ – and it’s considered too risky to stray beyond the confines of the job description when making judgments about whether to give an employee a pay rise or not. Current thinking judges factors apart from the job description as too subjective.

Further, on-job competencies are viewed as a peripheral matter in the assessment of pay levels. More specifically, non-job competencies such as one’s attitude and enthusiasm, ability to work in a team, readiness to develop oneself, and contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of the workplace, are not naturally considered; they don’t factor in remuneration decisions.

5. Succession planning and promotion      

As with other HRM practices, the job description has an unhealthy sway on succession planning decisions. Non-job competencies are not factored into these succession or promotion decisions as much as they ought to be.  

On the whole, succession planning for leadership positions is done poorly. Moving from a technical position to a leadership role requires a fundamentally different skill-set. Where the technical role is task-related, the leadership roles are predominantly  people-related; it’s about getting the technical job done with and through other people. The necessary skills-set for the leader is to motivate, communicate, influence, delegate, and coordinate.. But across industries, people are promoted to managerial positions based on their technical know-how. This over-reliance on task-specific information in the job description is the single biggest reason for this entrenched practice.

6. Performance reviews

Managers during the standard annual or biannual performance review continue to confine their appraisals to the technical aspects of the employee’s work. The manager’s interest is usually whether the job-holder has carried out the literal requirement of the job description – and this technical approach to appraising performance is generally promoted by HR. Again, the cost of sticking stringently to the letter of the job description is that vital aspects of organisational performance are overlooked.. Employees across all industries get fair, or even good, evaluation ratings at performance review time for completing their baseline tasks. I would argue this is attributable to a lack of attention paid to the importance of non-job roles.

This is an extract from Dr Tim Baker’s book, The End of the Job Description: Shifting from a job-focus to a Performance-focus.

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Linda Norman
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Linda Norman

Spot on Tim! The competency-based selection and assessment movement has failed to recognise the importance of high performance characteristics so it is great to hear your words above. Despite this, is is relatively easy to build performance measures into PD’s so that these important aspects are included in the selection and development processes. On the other hand, we do a lot of work with NFP organisations and I have found my clients struggle to ask for high performance when they are only able to pay minimal salaries. Of course there are many in the sector who perform very well and… Read more »

Tim Baker
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Tim Baker

Thanks Linda.

trackback
How can we solve the problem of harmful organising structures? – Deon Birtwistle

[…] Structuring business around specialised clusters or functions has occurred since the birth of the bureaucracy. Most companies still operate this way; and those that  have tried shifting to alternative structures, such as the matrix or product models, have seen mixed success. It raises the question: Is the limited success of these other organising structures due to the models themselves, or the people who lead and work in them? […]

More on HRM

A new perspective: Do job descriptions hurt productivity?


Excelling at a job and performance isn’t necessarily the same thing. Here’s why you can be meticulous in your work, cover all the key result areas (KRAs) of job descriptions – and still underperform.

Plenty of people are doing what’s required of them – based on their job description – but are failing to perform. This can work in reverse too; you can be performing brilliantly without necessarily following the exact requirements specified in job descriptions. This is because performing in an organisational context is more than completing the tasks cited in the job description.

Here, I will illustrate the problems the job description creates for six HR management practices.

1. Recruitment and selection

Unless the employee is recruited internally, the first contact HR has with a new employee is during the selection process, typically in an interview. The conventional practice of selecting the suitable candidate is based upon the job-related criteria in the job description. Though standard practice, over-reliance on the job description can backfire with disastrous consequences. What doesn’t make sense is the exclusive reliance on the job’s task-related competencies to select a new employee, when a whole realm of competencies are required for high performance

2. Induction

Most new employees meet a new job with a mix of excitement and apprehension on day one; eager to learn and receptive to new information and to the environment they are exposed to. This early stage of the employment cycle is a golden opportunity to positively shape and mold a set of productive habits and break old, unhelpful habits in a new employee.

A thorough on-boarding program includes a mix of information and exposure, including information relevant to completing the requirements of the job, the company’s policies and processes and matters pertinent to the team or department the employee is part of. However while there is a strong emphasis towards preparing the new employee to undertake their job role, there is less emphasis placed on preparing the employee for their organisational role: further entrenching the importance of job tasks. From this early experience onwards, the new employee is given the impression that non-job roles and their competencies are comparatively less important to their success.

3. Training and development

When an employee passes the probationary period, they are exposed to training and development opportunities. Most of these are technical training programs designed to improve current and future job competencies. Training programs that build non-job competencies, such is team development, are more prevalent than they once were, but are still less valued than job competency development.

4. Remuneration

When it comes to evaluating pay rises, we again tend to rely on the strict letter of the job description to inform our decision. This is done under the guise of ‘fairness’ and ‘impartiality’ – and it’s considered too risky to stray beyond the confines of the job description when making judgments about whether to give an employee a pay rise or not. Current thinking judges factors apart from the job description as too subjective.

Further, on-job competencies are viewed as a peripheral matter in the assessment of pay levels. More specifically, non-job competencies such as one’s attitude and enthusiasm, ability to work in a team, readiness to develop oneself, and contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of the workplace, are not naturally considered; they don’t factor in remuneration decisions.

5. Succession planning and promotion      

As with other HRM practices, the job description has an unhealthy sway on succession planning decisions. Non-job competencies are not factored into these succession or promotion decisions as much as they ought to be.  

On the whole, succession planning for leadership positions is done poorly. Moving from a technical position to a leadership role requires a fundamentally different skill-set. Where the technical role is task-related, the leadership roles are predominantly  people-related; it’s about getting the technical job done with and through other people. The necessary skills-set for the leader is to motivate, communicate, influence, delegate, and coordinate.. But across industries, people are promoted to managerial positions based on their technical know-how. This over-reliance on task-specific information in the job description is the single biggest reason for this entrenched practice.

6. Performance reviews

Managers during the standard annual or biannual performance review continue to confine their appraisals to the technical aspects of the employee’s work. The manager’s interest is usually whether the job-holder has carried out the literal requirement of the job description – and this technical approach to appraising performance is generally promoted by HR. Again, the cost of sticking stringently to the letter of the job description is that vital aspects of organisational performance are overlooked.. Employees across all industries get fair, or even good, evaluation ratings at performance review time for completing their baseline tasks. I would argue this is attributable to a lack of attention paid to the importance of non-job roles.

This is an extract from Dr Tim Baker’s book, The End of the Job Description: Shifting from a job-focus to a Performance-focus.

3
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Linda Norman
Guest
Linda Norman

Spot on Tim! The competency-based selection and assessment movement has failed to recognise the importance of high performance characteristics so it is great to hear your words above. Despite this, is is relatively easy to build performance measures into PD’s so that these important aspects are included in the selection and development processes. On the other hand, we do a lot of work with NFP organisations and I have found my clients struggle to ask for high performance when they are only able to pay minimal salaries. Of course there are many in the sector who perform very well and… Read more »

Tim Baker
Guest
Tim Baker

Thanks Linda.

trackback
How can we solve the problem of harmful organising structures? – Deon Birtwistle

[…] Structuring business around specialised clusters or functions has occurred since the birth of the bureaucracy. Most companies still operate this way; and those that  have tried shifting to alternative structures, such as the matrix or product models, have seen mixed success. It raises the question: Is the limited success of these other organising structures due to the models themselves, or the people who lead and work in them? […]

More on HRM