What NOT to Include When Creating Job Descriptions
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Tom Stimson
October 18, 2019

I hate job descriptions.

These endless lists of tasks aren’t helpful to the employee or the company. Management writes these descriptions in an attempt to define what an employee does. In doing so, they also define what the employee won’t do. 

Maybe writing detailed job descriptions sounds like a good idea, but most job descriptions have one crucial flaw: they include too many details. 

Job descriptions are not the place to explain the nuanced tasks you expect from your employees. In fact, the more detailed you make a job description, the more No’s you actually generate in an employee. 

It’s time to reevaluate the way we approach job descriptions. Don’t focus on the details — here’s what to do instead: 

Assign Process Ownership

Process ownership is much more effective than a task list. Explain employee responsibilities in terms of the processes they lead rather than the tasks that need to be done. 

When you write a job description, answer these questions:

  • What processes do they need to implement? 
  • Where do they have oversight? 
  • What general processes do they manage? 

When you give employees ownership over larger components of their job, they’ll naturally have to take care of the tasks involved in implementation.

Keep Responsibilities General

Too many job descriptions list responsibly after responsibility as they bullet point their expectations for the employee. 

I actually had one client write a job description for a company controller that was over four pages long. Anyone who’s qualified to apply for this job knows what a controller does. They already understand the responsibilities listed ad nauseam on this description. 

There’s no need to over-explain the tasks involved in doing specific jobs.  

Instead, communicate general responsibilities. For a controller, your job description could be as simple as “We expect you to take responsibility for recording and complying as needed.” 

Rather than attempt to include every detail of the employee’s job, write responsibilities in umbrella terms. Don’t get carried away with too many specifics.

Give Employees Authority Over Their Responsibilities 

Once you assign ownership over general responsibilities, give your employees the authority necessary to do their jobs. Ask yourself, “Does this person actually have the authority to execute the responsibility I’ve given them?” 

If they don’t, you can’t give them the responsibility. 

Happy, satisfied employees usually have broad, generalized job descriptions that are actually rather short — and they have authority to make decisions in areas where they’re knowledgeable. 

When we analyze why some employees are able to be so successful, it’s almost invariably because they have authority to make decisions in their area of work. They haven’t been given responsibilities outside of their control. 

Authority makes a difference. It grants people the ability to make a mistake. 

Let’s face it, job descriptions tell you all of the ways you’re not allowed to mess up — and that only hinders the potential of the employee (AND the company). However, when someone has the power to make a decision about how to best execute their responsibility, they’re much more likely to find new solutions and more effective approaches to their job.

The Power of a Great Job Description

Companies only grow when they empower their employees with the freedom to innovate, solve problems, and improve processes. 

Don’t let the old way of writing job descriptions cap the potential of your employees. Rather than weigh them down with task lists, grant them ownership over processes, keep their responsibilities general, and give them the authority to make decisions — even if they’re not always right. 

Both your employees and your organization will be better for it.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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