And Other Duties as Assigned

Screenshot 2014-12-08 07.12.35Job 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Use the list of competencies to clarify the job description and job posting templates.

Additional Helps

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!”

  

Making the Pieces Fit: Right Person-Right Job-Right Organization

A couple of years ago, when I was managing a group of trainers for a large financial services firm, I needed to backfill a position when a trainer was promoted within the company. We lacked internal bench strength, so following the culture of promotion from within wasn’t a viable option. I would have to hire externally. Personally, I welcomed this opportunity because I felt we needed some “new blood” in our organization.

As I sorted through dozens of resumes and began narrowing down the candidates, there was one individual who stood out to me as unique. What he lacked in industry experience I was confident he could overcome with his ambitious, unconventional perspective. I wanted to shake up the rest of the trainers, and I was committed to hiring a diverse team to broaden the perspectives of the group and encourage them to learn from one another.

So I ignored the concerns of a couple of people I had invited to participate in the interview process and went with my gut. What I learned is that sometimes your gut needs to listen to the guts of others!

Jerry was probably the worst hire I have ever made! Almost from the beginning, when he was a participant in the training class, he began stirring things up, but not in the exciting, positive way I had envisioned. Over the next two years I coached and disciplined him until it was obvious we needed to sever the relationship altogether.

What I now know is that company fit is a two-way street. An article published in 2005 by researchers at the University of Iowa (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson, Personnel Psychology, 2005) addresses Person-Environment fit. Fit can be considered from various angles, such as person-supervisor fit, person-organization fit, person-workgroup fit, and so on.

Recruiters and hiring managers may have some instinctive knowledge, and maybe even some formal training, in screening individuals for organizational fit. There is a desire to find out if someone will be a good fit for the culture as well as provide the necessary skills and experience to do the job. Often, though, organizations do what I did with Jerry – they fail to look at things from multiple perspectives, so they miss things that could become a problem down the road.

The most useful person-environment factors to consider are vocation fit, job fit, organization fit, and workgroup fit.

Vocation Fit

Remember the career interest inventory you took your senior year in high school? Your results showed a laundry list of possibly occupations based on what you selected as most and least desirable in the assessment. I think some of mine included funeral director, teacher, librarian and zookeeper. Often there is little personal counseling that goes along with these assessments so you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you might want to be when you grow up!

We assume that individuals have figured this out before they start applying for jobs, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked why someone wants a particular job and they respond with “I really like to help people.” That’s great! But why help people through this job? Why does it satisfy you? Why is this career of choice? I ask my college students what they plan to do after graduation and most of them say “get a job.” Minimal effort seems to be put into discovering strengths, passions, interests, and vocational fit.

Job Fit

Assuming the individual has made a thoughtful vocational choice, the next step is to consider job fit. My wife used to laugh at me early in our marriage when I would look through the want ads and circle jobs (yeah – remember the days when you had to get the Sunday paper to find out who was hiring?!) that I didn’t have the credentials for but was convinced I would be a perfect choice for! Or I would apply for jobs at companies that I would not enjoy working in.

As job seekers we get into the desperation trap of “I just need a job – any job – and I’ll keep looking if its not the best one.” With bills piling up we quickly jettison the idea that we need a job where we can thrive – we’re just trying to survive. We become overly optimistic and let the dollars guide us.

The opposite happens with organizations and hiring managers. I’ve made desperate hiring decisions just to fill a position quickly, then regretted it later. In the call center world we called it “butts in seats.” In retail we had a similar approach – the “fog a mirror” test. The assumption is that its better to have someone…anyone…than no-one. Some industries just come to expect a certain amount of turnover.

But have you noticed the difference between the fast-food associate that is a good fit and the one who isn’t? They are in the right vocation – customer service – and in the right job. They smile, interact, and do their work with pride. In some ways its harder to measure this as people climb the ladder. They have the experience, skills, and credentials. But do they fit with your job?

Organization Fit

There are a few ways to look at organization fit. First, is there values alignment? Job seekers have to find out if what they believe about life and work meshes with what the company believes about life and work. Do they produce products and services that we think are harmful in some way? I once worked for a company that provided customer service for companies that sold adult videos, psychic readings, and online gambling sites. I didn’t know that until after I started working for the company, and it gave me some heartburn to be associated with such a company.

My first human resources job was for a century-old food manufacturing company that was hiring their first HR Manager in the company’s history. It took them at least two years to pull the trigger on posting the job. The average tenure of the executive team was about 20 years, so most of them started with the company right out of college and never left. As a young, ambitious, and out-of-the-box HR Manager, I was in for an awakening! I had a blast going in and setting up a new department, having the autonomy to create priorities and projects. But after about three years I had done all I could do because my desire for progressive programs did not fit the culture. They needed someone who would maintain what I had set in place.

As organizations become more active supporters of a variety of causes, from gay rights to immigration reform to global warming, job seekers have to do their homework to decide whether they fit with such an organization. It requires asking specific questions about values, priorities, and practices. Read articles about the company to see what may be below the surface of the company web site.

Workgroup Fit

At the workgroup level both the job seeker and the employer need to evaluate whether there is a good fit with a particular team. I’ve worked in large organizations that are a conglomeration of multiple sub-cultures. If the workgroup is in a location apart from corporate headquarters, how is the culture different? Is there dysfunction, infighting, or an “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to working with other departments?

When I worked for a regional department store chain I was in one of the premier stores in a large mall in a large city. I would visit our stores in smaller cities and the culture within the store was completely different. There is a different talent pool, with smaller towns typically having less turnover. I’ve often found that the less turnover there is, the more likely the workgroup is receptive to change and new ideas. This isn’t always the case, but it’s important to check out.

Over a ten-year career in retail I worked in or managed virtually every department. As a 20-something male, I was assigned to manage a cosmetics department of 30 women for a couple of years. What an experience that was. Talk about a challenging workgroup fit!  Why my boss thought this was a good position for me, I don’t know. And why I accepted it shows that I didn’t give much thought to workgroup fit!

Evaluating Fit is Everyone’s Job

Job seekers and employers both have a responsibility to evaluate fit. At the highest organizational levels processes need to be in place to ensure values and priorities are clearly communicated at every level and location of the organization. Human resource policies and practices need to promote evaluation of fit, with hiring managers receiving training on how to screen at the four levels of fitness.

With high unemployment and fierce competition for jobs it will be difficult for job seekers to honestly evaluate fit, especially at the organization and workgroup levels. Individuals will accept positions out of desperation, blindly hoping that they can push through the discomfort they may have with the workplace. It won’t take long for things to surface and productivity will likely suffer. Co-workers will be affected and HR will be called in to help fix the situation.

We will continue to see tension within our workplaces from a failure to consider fit from employer and employee angles. Misalignment of skills, values, personalities and priorities cause friction and misunderstanding. As an HR Manager I frequently had discussions with hiring managers over whether it was better to keep a position open longer, taking a risk with productivity, or to keep searching for the right person. It’s difficult in the moment, because there are lines of customers waiting to be helped, or projects put on hold, or machines running at less-than-capacity. But in the end, the productivity and positive ripple effects for the workgroup and organization when the right person is in the job typically outweigh the less-than-stellar outcomes of a poor fit.

Suggested Resources

Who: The A Method for Hiring

Order Who: The A Method for Hiring from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

Order Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time from the Minding the Gap Bookstore

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

Order What Color is Your Parachute? 2012 from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!

Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type

Order Do What You Are from the Minding the Gap Bookstore!