Transformation Solutions Blog

Supercharge your Job Descriptions into a Powerful Performance Management Tool

October 17th, 2012

Want to immediately improve the performance of your workgroup or organization? Go up in the attic and dig out those job descriptions you wrote years ago, update them, and instead of throwing them in the drawer until the next time you are asked to update them, use them to communicate and manage performance. “But,” you say, “My jobs change so fast I would be constantly writing job descriptions!” Really? Is it the job that’s changing, or are the activities changing? There is a difference. It is the rare instance where the primary purpose of a job fundamentally changes. You may want more of something, or less of something, or something a little different, but you aren’t asking your maintenance staff to move over into sales when they aren’t repairing things are you? What changes are the “activities” an individual may be asked to do. That is why we need to stop writing our job descriptions to describe the exhaustive list of activities and start identifying the reason why they are performing these activities – to get results.

Study after study has shown that the most important variable in improving employee performance is their level of understanding of what is expected of them. People in an organization generally deliver what they are measured on. Because traditional job descriptions focus on activities, activities are what are measured. Because what gets measured gets done, measuring activity leads to the generation of more activity. A results-focused job description addresses the realities of today’s work by identifying the results a job delivers and how those results will be measured. Results are those things an employee must accomplish, not how it should be done. So what is a result? The test of whether or not you have defined a result is simple: If you can leave it behind when you walk out of the door, it is a result. If it is something you can take with you, it is not. For example: “marketing” is not a result, but an activity; however, “sales leads” is the result of marketing.

Work is no longer predictable and mechanical. Individuals need to be aligned to the strategy and clear on what they need to deliver for an organization to be successful. When jobs are defined from a results perspective, it is much easier to understand how they connect to strategy, how pivotal they are in driving the achievement of that strategy, and whether or not the incumbent is up to the task. That’s where a results-focused job description can rocket your performance systems to a new level.

I know, you’re probably saying, “ This isn’t very exciting, critical or strategic. There are a number of generic job descriptions out on the web and I can just grab one of those, check the box, and be done with it”. But the truth is there isn’t anything more strategic you can do as a manager than making sure your employees know what they need to deliver. I’m not talking about annual goal setting, but the fundamental reasons the job exists. I’ve been writing results-focused job descriptions for over 10 years and I rarely work with a manager who can easily define the deliverables of the job without spending a couple of hours coaxing it out of them. It’s not that these managers don’t have an idea in their heads of what they expect, it’s that they can’t completely describe it. So how can you know good performance from bad if you can’t describe it? Even more unsettling is how will employees know what it looks like if you can’t tell them until after it is too late – usually the annual performance appraisal?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying activities are bad. Activities are the things we must do to get results. What I am saying is that focusing primarily on activities won’t generate the results you need, and creates a workforce that is unaccountable and waiting for instructions on the next activity. After all “we” did what you asked us to do, just because “you” didn’t get the result “you” wanted isn’t our fault. I need my employees to understand the big picture and how the work they do contributes to the organization’s success so that they can have the flexibility to identify what activities will get us there the most effective way.

So let’s break out of the activity trap where we feel compelled to write “all other duties as assigned” because we don’t want to hear, “It’s not my job.” With a results-focused job description we can clearly tell the person why it is part of their job because it is a way to achieve the required result. And we can make the process of performance management simpler and more meaningful because we are focused on results.

Looking for more on this topic? Check-out our elearning course “Supercharge your Job Descriptions into Powerful Performance Management Tools” and earn 3 Business HRCI credits.