Great Expectations
Why it’s essential to create job descriptions
By Karen Young
Date Published: 4/1/2017


Recently, I’ve heard the question asked: “Karen, why do I even need to have a job description? We’re too small and everybody must do lots of things to keep the business moving forward! I don’t want to be locked down by a piece of paper.” Understandable. But, if we don’t have solid job descriptions at least defined, how does an employee know what you expect him/her to accomplish? How does an employee know what success looks like? I’m sure we can all agree that expecting someone to do “everything” is expecting someone to fail (unless you’re the business owner and then, yay, we get to do it all—and cannot fail!).

Think about the job description this way—look at it as the center of the wheel in employment. Every interaction we have with an employee should “spoke” off the center. If you truly want to cut down on some of the drama with your employees, then build solid job descriptions that specify expectations. 

You can recruit all you want, but your recruiting won’t be successful unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. Going forward, unless new employees understand exactly what their responsibilities are, they won’t have successful onboarding/orientation periods. Without solid job descriptions, your coaching and mentoring lose their focus—you may advocate one thing one day and another thing the next. No one can be successful in an environment like that, and if you intend to discipline an employee for poor job performance, both of you need to have a deep understanding of what the job’s expectations truly are. And if someone is leaving their position (even when retiring or being promoted) or you have to terminate an individual, you want to fully understand what the job’s responsibilities are and what will be required to fulfill them.

The best way to create a job description is by determining the essential functions of a job. Essential functions are a lot more than just the tasks of the job; they are the basic reasons why the job exists. To capture them, a job description should be written much like a résumé. For example, instead of saying, “Push the first button on the phone to answer an incoming call,” you should say, “Answer heavy call loads.” You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of the actual process of the job, but you do want to describe the overall idea of the task or responsibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act impacts job descriptions because when we talk about the interactive dialogue, we need to know what a job’s essential functions are. To illustrate essential functions, let’s go back to our example of a receptionist. The essential functions of the job—the primary reasons the job exists—are to greet guests when they come in and to answer incoming calls. There might be other secondary responsibilities or tasks that the person is required to perform—the receptionist might match accounts payables to purchase orders or answer the phone—but the purpose of that job is to greet visitors when they come in and answer incoming calls. It’s that simple.

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