Stop doing job descriptions – an irreverent look at job descriptions


Do not read the following as it may contain dangerous chemicals or hazardous ideas that will challenge your thinking. I am a member of the “Save the Electrons” movement, so if you are going to kill all of those innocent electrons * in an e-mail telling us anecdotal “Jurassic Park” stories of how in 1950 a job description saved your dog’s life… I believe you! (I even have a story where…).

The point is this is the 90’s and the world of work now demands we spend valuable HR resources on practices that we can PROVE with real #’s and $’s that they increase productivity and profits. [Yes that’s how CEO’s think, (yes, I was one for a time)]. If you are a 21st Century thinker, or don’t mind an irreverent look at the “fun” world of job descriptions read on.

An irreverent look at job descriptions

No, everyone doesn’t use Job Description (JD’s). I know several hi-tech firms that don’t have them and are proud of it. Now they do have “thought up on the run” one paragraph recruitment postings but, these show no measurable– irreverent look at job descriptions–correlation to the final hiring criteria, which by “Hi-tech law” (at least in the Silicon Valley) MUST be made up during the interview process. (apologies in advance to the three-letter computer company that let me in on the “secret “) 🙂

17 Reasons to start the 12 step process in order to begin to withdrawing from job descriptions.

  1. In a fast-changing environment by the time they are written, they are out of date. They might only be updated every several years.
  2. They are almost always “past focused” (what have you BEEN doing?) and are not future-focused (what do we NEED to be doing?) We want them to think of new ways to work (Could we do it differently?).
  3. They can (and should) be replaced by weekly / monthly measurable (and rewarded) performance goals drawn up between the employee and the team (Substitute the word manager for team if you are in government or live in Jurassic Park).
  4. They force individuals into my job / your job conflicts and inhibit “Thinking outside the box” creativity. If teams are involved, they force members into boxes, which can actually decrease productivity.
  5. They are very expensive to do (Over $100 each, if you include management review time).
  6. They are often done by HR people who know little about the technical aspects of the job. (I know of several firms where the interns do them).
  7. With Broadbanding and increasing proportions of pay at risk they are less important in determining compensation.
  8. They usually end up in a drawer gathering dust. Many employees never see their own (and certainly can’t produce one on short notice)
    [As a Professor I don’t have one (Whoops, that’s an argument FOR job descriptions)].
  9. They are usually “vague” (the KSA’s or job duties don’t have weights or output measures). They include meaningless or vague statements such as “Other duties as assigned”, “Work with”, “Contribute to”. (KSA’s are often made up or obtained from the 900 number of the KSA Psychic Friends Network).
  10. Many are created using a single source of information (rather than a 360-degree approach) or a painfully long job analysis questionnaire designed by Attila the Hun that automatically seeks out the bottom of the “to do” pile on the managers’ desk.
  11. They often do not include a distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” functions (ADA).
  12. They are often done on “paper” and thus are not easily available to others in the organization (not on-line). They are painfully dull to read and will cause the number of daily hits on your web site to fall below the value of pi (3.14+).
  13. They are not legally required, and their mere existence and / or their inaccuracy have served as great evidence in wrongful termination suits against the firm. (“They told me to do one thing in this JD but they fired me for not doing something not even in the document”).
  14. They are often not (OK , Never) related to the employee’s performance appraisal. (“You told me to do one thing but evaluated me on other criteria”).
  15. They take weeks to complete.
  16. There are few Just in Time JD’s outside of the “sudden job opening” JD’s used for recruiting.
  17. If you are a democrat skip this line…Unions actually like them! (Enough said).

How to determine the relative value
of job descriptions (This Part is Not funny)

  • There is no evidence that they ” work”. Do firms with “good ones” make more profit, get sued less, have more equity, less employee confusion on work responsibilities, hire more productive employees, etc.? Have you seen a single study by anyone comparing their use to a numerical change in productivity? Have you done one? If you would like to know how to, read on.
  • They may be loved by HR people, but they are seldom loved by anyone else. Try a forced ranking survey by your managers and ask them to rank all HR services (JD’s, Performance Appraisal, References etc.) in order of contribution to productivity. JD’s will end up in the bottom third! (Try it).
  • Ask the CEO to do the same, but don’t be surprised if they do not just don’t like them but HATE them because they are reflections of “inside the box thinking” when he/she wants more of the opposite.
  • Be a scientist and pick, at random, 5 jobs with current JD’s and 5 without ones. Check the CHANGE in performance scores in the first 6 months after update (you won’t find any). Then compare the change in performance between the new and the old. Next, check the top 5 performers in the company and age their JD’s, then do the same for the 5 worst performers. See if there is any difference in JD age. (Stop doing things not required by law that don’t measurably impact performance).
  • Try a role analysis technique (RAT). Ask the manager, the worker, and the co-workers to SEPARATELY list on paper their perception of the ACTUAL duties and KSA’s, in order of importance, for that one job. Compare and be prepared for a great deal of “role ambiguity”. If you really want to learn something also ask them what they should be.
  • If you want to be bold start charging a fee to managers for doing them and count the money. Or just call managers and tell them you want to update the JD’s and measure the response time (use a calendar 🙂 ).
  • Count the number of days added to “time to hire” as a result of waiting for JD approval. (One firm that tracked it found it to be 1/3 of the T.T.H.).

As seen on Gately Consulting

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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