Get rid of your job descriptions – or maybe don’t
The Job Description is Obsolete is the title of a recent article in Forbes magazine. They argue that writing down responsibilities, duties and qualifications is ineffective and even harmful for the organization. Is that generally true?Most job descriptions are being created for operational HR tasks such as compensation, recruiting or selection, with a focus on compliance or to fulfil industry rules. These types of job descriptions have certainly become irrelevant. They describe a job as a static set of tasks and qualifications with little reference to the dynamic world they are being performed in. They are therefore of no help for dealing with today’s challenges such as people development or strategic workforce planning. If you use these types of job descriptions in your company – yes, absolutely do get rid of them.
Instead, improve your job descriptions to boost your talent management
However, instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, you can simply improve your job descriptions in a way that they boost your entire talent management. Why investing in a whole new process if you have such a valuable tool already at hand?
Today, organizations with an integrated talent management use job descriptions to set hiring thresholds and communicate performance expectations. They serve as an important building block of job architectures which feed into strategic workforce and succession planning, in many cases even for leadership, and career development.
These companies store all documentation that comes with a job such as competency profiles, compensation data, performance measures, career paths or compliance classifications in one single, structured place. This allows them to create all job descriptions based on the same data, terminology, and criteria. They become comparable, written statements of tasks, expectations and potential career paths which serve employer and employee alike. With a little bit of care in writing your job descriptions it will then boost your talent management activities to a whole other level, without any large investment. How do you get there?
Recruiting and retaining talent
Job descriptions need to contain all and the correct job requirements. Then they can be used as solid foundation for interviews and enable the selection of the most suitable candidates. Looking at it the other way around, candidates will understand better what the tasks and responsibilities are, reducing the risk of job dissatisfaction, increasing talent retention, and lowering turnover.
Job descriptions should also include the required skills and competencies because it enables employees to compare their own skills with the skillset required for the job they aim at. Publishing the open positions in your company together with the required skillsets in your internal talent marketplace can then improve internal mobility and employee engagement.
Include carefully defined achievement goals for career progression in your job descriptions. This gives line managers a transparent baseline to determine how far the work of an employee reflects the goals of a job, measure their performance correctly and consistently, and give adequate feedback. The only precondition is for the job descriptions to be up-to-date and comparable with others. But that’s easy if they are all based on the same criteria. It will make performance management a truly ongoing activity and significantly more transparent and flexible, a valuable feat in any agile work environment.
Learning and development
If job descriptions contain skills and they are actively being used for performance management then they can serve as the basis for planning learning and development activities. Both together allow an organization to detect where their employees stand and where they would like them to be, in other words identifying skill gaps. A reliable skill map is probably the best way to prepare for future requirements. You can set the right training objectives and help employees to develop knowledge and competencies in the most important areas.
Different jobs have different complexity and require different skill levels. They’re therefore graded and paid differently. If your job descriptions are based on the same criteria, compensation teams can easily use the job descriptions to compare and evaluate job profiles to make fair compensation decisions. A compensation structure based on comparable job descriptions will be transparent for employer and employee and strengthen talent attraction and retention.
Effective succession planning relies on a deep understanding of all aspects of a job profile as well as a good overview of available talent in the organization. Well written job descriptions will help in this situation because a talent pool can easily be identified, and the process runs smoother.
In practice, job descriptions are indeed many times obsolete. When was the last time that you looked at your own? If your job description would offer the above-mentioned features, you might look at it regularly. The three most important things to keep in mind is to make them comprehensive (containing all data about a job), comparable (based on the same criteria and terminology) and to keep them up to date. Then you’re set for great improvements in HR operations without any large investment.