Is there a single other management tool that has as poor a reputation or that is executed as shoddily as the hapless position description? I don't think so.
So I am starting a campaign. It's 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. If you even have one.
This campaign needs to be subtle. After all, supporting a cause to revive the position description hardly holds the marketing appeal of rallying for a cute marsupial on the endangered species list. Alas, there will be no wrist bands with cool slogans or celebrity endorsements.
Here's 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 (or save them from pain). 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, what they are accountable for, and the boundaries within which they operate. People without role clarity are often less engaged and may be more likely to leave their employer.
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, or routine 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 under-performing 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 (although it helps), 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 frustration.
A set of model PDs for common roles across the organisation – this helps drive consistency and reduces the work in writing PDs.
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.
PDs are regularly reviewed – build in a review of each PD to coincide with the setting of performance objectives. This makes sense as there should be a clear link between role accountabilities and performance goals.
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 just need a helping hand to get started.
Education of managers – ensure that managers know that a position description provides a high level overview of a role – it shouldn't be a lengthy document. Don’t use the PD as a laundry list of every possible task that an employee might need to perform – it is not your procedure manual!
3. Start conversations
Having a PD in place is not enough. 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. It should be a collaborative process.
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.
A call to action!
Organisations that 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!