Is it time to kill the job description?


The job description — like the performance review — is a relic of the last century. Yet we  cling onto this antiquated HRM tool in the hope that it aids employee performance.

We get frustrated with the job description, don’t we? We are constantly tinkering with its format and content, hoping to make it more reflective of the work people are supposed to do in the organisation. But instead of fiddling with it and asking how can we make it be more effective, we ought to be asking a better question: should we just get rid of it?

The job description – as its name suggests – is based exclusively on the characteristics of a specific job and is typically broken down into six to eight job-related tasks, functions or Key Result Areas (KRAs). In other words, it’s defined by the technical requirements of a job.

Therefore it neglects (or gives mere lip service) to key non-job competencies, such as being able to work in teams. This means the work document is incomplete and deficient. Organisational performance is much more than successfully completing the sum of the technical requirements in the job description, yet we are so dependent on the job description for most HRM practices. A more complete performance model, factoring in job and non-job dimensions, is long overdue. It hasn’t happened, I think, because focusing on the more measurable task-based job requirements is about maintaining a legally defensible performance appraisal system.

(This month we covered the legalities of making the perfect HR document.)

So the answer is yes; we should throw out the job description because it’s already past it’s used by date. But what should we replace it with?

The Role Description

The best alternative – I believe – is the role description. This might sound like a different label for the same thing, an old wine in a new bottle, but the role description is significantly different. It reflects a shift from a focus on the job to a focus on performance, and captures what work is like in the 21st-century.

The role description captures the totality of work performance. Although the job description has evolved over time, it still is pretty much centred on the job. It’s hooked on the task-related activity of work. Put simply, the job description is too focused on the job and not enough on the individual doing the job. Some effort has gone into addressing this imbalance of job over non-job roles. Nonetheless, the job description is still too job-centric.

(Want to know how to approach employee recognition? Check out these 10 powerful tips.)

Non-job Roles Framework

Organisational performance—and the contributing performance of employees—is more dependent on the four non-job roles.

  • Positive mental attitude and enthusiasm role;
  • Team role;
  • Skill development role; and
  • Innovation and continuous improvement role.

If these four non-job roles are not being performed by most employees to a high standard, there will be problems.

For instance, a widespread lack of positive attitudes and enthusiasm will adversely affect job satisfaction, attraction and retention, employee engagement, and so on. Or, an organisation filled with individuals who are not ‘team players’ results in communication barriers in the form of silos and cross-functional communication breakdowns.

Or, finally, an organisation filled with employees who have stopped growing and developing will see stagnating business, or worse, a business going backward as their competitor’s progress.

While we have an implicit expectation that employees should perform these non-job roles, the job description ignores them or, if they are mentioned, they are generalities without specific KPIs and targets.

We need to rethink work and the work document that expresses it.

This article was drawn 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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Colin Imms
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Colin Imms

Nice intent, but not right. There are too many situations where a detailed job description is still needed, and necessary. For example, how would you process a 457 visa application without one? How do you advise a new employee of the requirements of his position without one? There are many situations where a job description is required. Perhaps the job description document can be modified to include organisational performance requirements, but not done away with. Let’s get real. gees!

Geoffrey N De Lacy
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Geoffrey N De Lacy

This tells us what most have practiced for at least 10+ years.
It is also somewhat pedantic in its structure.
Methinks the author might need to get out more.

Sarah W
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Sarah W

The job description, I believe is a point in time document which is useful from a recruitment perspective but for it to be truly effective has to be continually reviewed and revised during the employment cycle to ensure it is fit for purpose. It is only one element in the performance review process and as someone becomes more embedded in their role has less relevance other than a reference check that the role the individual is undertaking is the one they were employed to do and that they are not undertaking an entirely different role (in which case an amendment… Read more »

Irving Warren
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Irving Warren

I agree with Geoffrey N De Lacy. The author is very pedantic and seems to considering a small section of the workforce. Any one writing a job description, who does not already include ‘performance roles’ in relevant job descriptions, is in the wrong job (obviously did not meet the specifications in their own job description). Not every job will require the factors listed by Tim Baker. Half the population has an IQ at or below 100. Many such people are happy to simply perform a routine task, get paid and go home: for them a detailed description of what they… Read more »

Dennis Pratt
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Dennis Pratt

For those interested in AHRI history, may I refer you to HRMonthly of November 1995: “Job Descriptions? Burn the bloody things.”

Sometimes it takes a little time for ideas to sink in in the HR trade. After all, it was 1957 when Douglas McGregor took “An Uneasy Look At Performance Appraisal” in the HBR and we’re still reading ‘new’ articles about that.

I’m sure that in another 22 years somebody will write yet another article saying that there should be an “end to the job description”.

More on HRM

Is it time to kill the job description?


The job description — like the performance review — is a relic of the last century. Yet we  cling onto this antiquated HRM tool in the hope that it aids employee performance.

We get frustrated with the job description, don’t we? We are constantly tinkering with its format and content, hoping to make it more reflective of the work people are supposed to do in the organisation. But instead of fiddling with it and asking how can we make it be more effective, we ought to be asking a better question: should we just get rid of it?

The job description – as its name suggests – is based exclusively on the characteristics of a specific job and is typically broken down into six to eight job-related tasks, functions or Key Result Areas (KRAs). In other words, it’s defined by the technical requirements of a job.

Therefore it neglects (or gives mere lip service) to key non-job competencies, such as being able to work in teams. This means the work document is incomplete and deficient. Organisational performance is much more than successfully completing the sum of the technical requirements in the job description, yet we are so dependent on the job description for most HRM practices. A more complete performance model, factoring in job and non-job dimensions, is long overdue. It hasn’t happened, I think, because focusing on the more measurable task-based job requirements is about maintaining a legally defensible performance appraisal system.

(This month we covered the legalities of making the perfect HR document.)

So the answer is yes; we should throw out the job description because it’s already past it’s used by date. But what should we replace it with?

The Role Description

The best alternative – I believe – is the role description. This might sound like a different label for the same thing, an old wine in a new bottle, but the role description is significantly different. It reflects a shift from a focus on the job to a focus on performance, and captures what work is like in the 21st-century.

The role description captures the totality of work performance. Although the job description has evolved over time, it still is pretty much centred on the job. It’s hooked on the task-related activity of work. Put simply, the job description is too focused on the job and not enough on the individual doing the job. Some effort has gone into addressing this imbalance of job over non-job roles. Nonetheless, the job description is still too job-centric.

(Want to know how to approach employee recognition? Check out these 10 powerful tips.)

Non-job Roles Framework

Organisational performance—and the contributing performance of employees—is more dependent on the four non-job roles.

  • Positive mental attitude and enthusiasm role;
  • Team role;
  • Skill development role; and
  • Innovation and continuous improvement role.

If these four non-job roles are not being performed by most employees to a high standard, there will be problems.

For instance, a widespread lack of positive attitudes and enthusiasm will adversely affect job satisfaction, attraction and retention, employee engagement, and so on. Or, an organisation filled with individuals who are not ‘team players’ results in communication barriers in the form of silos and cross-functional communication breakdowns.

Or, finally, an organisation filled with employees who have stopped growing and developing will see stagnating business, or worse, a business going backward as their competitor’s progress.

While we have an implicit expectation that employees should perform these non-job roles, the job description ignores them or, if they are mentioned, they are generalities without specific KPIs and targets.

We need to rethink work and the work document that expresses it.

This article was drawn from Dr Tim Baker’s book The End of the Job Description: Shifting from a Job-focus to a Performance-focus

14
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Colin Imms
Guest
Colin Imms

Nice intent, but not right. There are too many situations where a detailed job description is still needed, and necessary. For example, how would you process a 457 visa application without one? How do you advise a new employee of the requirements of his position without one? There are many situations where a job description is required. Perhaps the job description document can be modified to include organisational performance requirements, but not done away with. Let’s get real. gees!

Geoffrey N De Lacy
Guest
Geoffrey N De Lacy

This tells us what most have practiced for at least 10+ years.
It is also somewhat pedantic in its structure.
Methinks the author might need to get out more.

Sarah W
Guest
Sarah W

The job description, I believe is a point in time document which is useful from a recruitment perspective but for it to be truly effective has to be continually reviewed and revised during the employment cycle to ensure it is fit for purpose. It is only one element in the performance review process and as someone becomes more embedded in their role has less relevance other than a reference check that the role the individual is undertaking is the one they were employed to do and that they are not undertaking an entirely different role (in which case an amendment… Read more »

Irving Warren
Guest
Irving Warren

I agree with Geoffrey N De Lacy. The author is very pedantic and seems to considering a small section of the workforce. Any one writing a job description, who does not already include ‘performance roles’ in relevant job descriptions, is in the wrong job (obviously did not meet the specifications in their own job description). Not every job will require the factors listed by Tim Baker. Half the population has an IQ at or below 100. Many such people are happy to simply perform a routine task, get paid and go home: for them a detailed description of what they… Read more »

Dennis Pratt
Guest
Dennis Pratt

For those interested in AHRI history, may I refer you to HRMonthly of November 1995: “Job Descriptions? Burn the bloody things.”

Sometimes it takes a little time for ideas to sink in in the HR trade. After all, it was 1957 when Douglas McGregor took “An Uneasy Look At Performance Appraisal” in the HBR and we’re still reading ‘new’ articles about that.

I’m sure that in another 22 years somebody will write yet another article saying that there should be an “end to the job description”.

More on HRM