Job descriptions are on equal turf with performance evaluations as tools that are operating below their potential. Most organizations take a “one and done” approach to job descriptions and only dust them off when the position is posted on a job board. We figure that as long as we include the notorious “and other duties as assigned” disclaimer at the end of job descriptions we really don’t have to take them seriously. But when done right, the job (or position) description can be a key piece of the performance puzzle.
I’ve written a lot of job descriptions throughout my career. I’ve found that it’s both an art and a science – using best practices from a career field or industry is a good place to start, but putting the unique organizational spin on a description ensures I’m hiring people that fit with my company.
Using competency modeling helps create a job description that not only reflects the technical requirements of the role, but captures the cultural nuances necessary for success in my particular setting.
Korn/Ferry, a leader in the field of workplace competencies, defines competencies as the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that lead to high performance. (Lombardo, 2009) Defining what makes a person competent in a specific role has impact on both an organizational and individual performance level.
Trying to find a well-rounded person with a cross-section of competencies may not be best for your success. Hiring an accountant who can also sell may sound like a great “two for one” deal, but you might end up with a mediocre accountant or a frustrated salesperson.
Defining competencies for a specific job takes some skill, but there are resources available to help you identify what competencies will lead to the best performance from the individuals in your organization.
Follow these steps to identify the job competencies for each position in your organization:
- Make several copies of the table of competencies here. Get 2-4 colleagues together (including anyone already doing the job) and have each person circle the top 10 competencies they believe are necessary to be successful in that job.
- Identify the ones you agree on, then narrow the list down to 5-6 by discussing any of those that you differ on. Get to the most critical competencies. Use the definitions from the web site, and discuss what the term means to you and your organization. It’s important that everyone has the same understanding of the term.
- If you have a job description already, review it to see if what you circled matches with what the job description reflects. If they do not match, what is different? Make any adjustments based on your review.
- Use the list of competencies to clarify the job description and job posting templates.
Note: As you consider which of the competencies are required for a particular position in your organization, think about how you define the item. For instance, “negotiating” may mean something very specific to you, but something very different to your colleagues. Come to agreement on how you define each competency. You may also identify competencies not listed on the web site table. This list is just to get you started.
A Google search of particular competencies will likely lead to some definitions that already exist. You may also want to check out the Lominger (Korn/Ferry) book, FYI: For Your Improvement, which provides greater detail on competencies and how to use them. Their competency card decks are pricy, but an excellent tool if you’ve got several positions to evaluate.
Once the job description is complete, it’s important to use it as both as a mirror and a compass. As a mirror, each incumbent in the role should reflect the image of what the position exists for. Not that every individual should look identical, but each should have the core knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies required for the role. As a compass, the job description identifies performance management and training focus to ensure continued alignment and skill development.
Regular review of job descriptions should be built in to the audit cycle of the organization. Annual position description audits might be too much for some company’s, but every couple of years makes sense. Any time there is a change in organizational design, or whenever new technology is introduced that has a significant impact on the role, the position should be evaluated and the description updated.
Maybe we don’t hate job descriptions as much as we do performance reviews, but we need to stop blaming the tool for failure. Operations and human resources leaders need to figure out how to build the right tools for their organization, and work together to get them to function for the organization and its human capital, not against. Maybe then people won’t be so cynical when they read “and other duties as assigned!”