In another blog post I wrote about how, in my opinion, the performance review is an unjustifiably maligned and poorly utilised leadership tool. See: http://tinyurl.com/3el7nya
Well, allow me to introduce you to the performance review’s poorer cousin, the position description. I can’t think of a single other management or HR tool that has as poor a reputation or that is executed as shoddily as the hapless position description.
So I am starting a campaign. It is time to move the position description out from the depths of your work desk’s bottom drawer. You know what I am talking about. Most position descriptions are buried beneath a pile of files and papers and your surplus mouse pads, rarely to see daylight.
This campaign needs to be subtle and subversive. After all, supporting a cause to revive the position description hardly holds the marketing appeal of rallying for a cute, fluffy marsupial on the endangered species list. Alas, there will be no wrist bands with cool slogans or celebrity endorsements. Here is what we need to do to re-establish the position description in its rightful place as an essential business tool.
1. Sell the benefits to managers
Managers generally won’t invest their scarce time and resources into anything which does not deliver an obvious benefit. So what exactly are some of the benefits of a good PD?
Firstly, employees crave role clarity. They want to know the purpose of their role, their main accountabilities and the boundaries within which they operate. People without role clarity are often less engaged and may be more likely to search for a new role.
Role clarity helps ensure that employees are doing the right work. A lack of clear accountabilities can lead to duplication of work, tasks falling between the cracks because nobody knows who is accountable for what, or work being done at too high a level in the organisation, with strategic work not getting done. Role clarity helps ensure a return on the investment in your employees’ salaries. Think of how much it costs you annually to employ each of your team members and then consider the potential wastage and opportunity cost of a poorly defined role and an employee not doing the right work at the right level.
A well-written position description is also a critical link to other HR processes such as recruitment and selection, performance management, and development planning – without a clearly defined role the other processes break down and are less likely to be of value.
And finally, a position description is a risk management tool. How could you expect to manage an underperforming employee’s performance without a clear and up-to-date position description? In fact, it begs the question, is the employee performing poorly because there is no position description in the first place?
2. Create an organisational system for PDs
To ensure consistency of application across an organisation there needs to be a system for developing and maintaining PDs. Not an IT system necessarily, but a process. A good system for PDs comprises the following elements:
- A single user-friendly PD template used across the company – multiple versions of PD templates causes confusion and raises the ire of employees.
- A set of model PDs for common roles across the organisation – this helps drive consistency and reduces the work in writing PDs, as a model PD then just needs to be tailored for each position, rather than a manager having to start with a blank template.
- A standard set of people leadership accountabilities – each manager at the same level in the organisation should have the same set of accountabilities for leading a team of people – this helps drive consistent people leadership across the business.
- A central repository for PDs where they are stored and are easily accessible for each employee.
- Managers review each employee’s PD regularly – build in a review of the PD to coincide with the setting of performance objectives for the year. This timing is perfect as an up-to-date PD should be a key document referred to when developing performance objectives for the year.
- PDs are audited – conduct an annual audit to identify the coverage and quality of position descriptions across the organisation. Follow up with managers whose teams don’t have position descriptions. Maybe they need a helping hand to get started as some people find writing a position description to be a daunting prospect.
- Education of managers – ensure that managers know that a position description provides a high level overview of a role – it should not be a lengthy document. Don’t try and list every possible task that an employee might need to perform – it is not your procedure manual.
3. Get people talking to each other
Position descriptions live in the bottom drawer precisely because they are just that – position descriptions. Engagement and communication is what brings the PD to life and where the benefits described above are realised.
Managers should use PD development as a chance to talk with each of their team members about their role. Ask for their input on their role’s purpose and key accountabilities. Use a team meeting to discuss each person’s role at a high level and identify what is unclear, what is missing and what major interdependencies need to be managed. This is the magic of PDs that is often never realised. You might be amazed at just how much confusion and lack of shared understanding there is between a manager and a direct report and across a team as a whole, regarding who is accountable for what - and what a positive impact it has on productivity when you resolve the ambiguity.
A call to action!
Organisations which have the discipline and a systematic approach to providing role clarity for their people are positioning themselves for success. Okay, it’s not the sexiest campaign to ever be devised and it isn’t tax deductible, but join me in my crusade to help lift the position description out of the bottom drawer for good. It’s time – let’s get started!