When we say the words “Position Description”, for some it can conjure up positive feelings, such as clarity, accountability and alignment. For others, it feels like bureaucracy, being boxed in and doing paperwork just for the sake of it. There are those of us who like documentation, whilst others have an allergy to it. I am neither a documentation nor non-documentation person – I am a person who enjoys good business practices that add value.
Let’s explore where the value in position descriptions lies and whether or not it is valuable for you. There are 10 benefits that I have broken up into 4 categories.
Hiring the right talent
1. Position Description can give you a better chance of selecting the right person
Take the job titles of Business Development Manager, Customer Service Officer or Marketing Manager. If you want to increase the chance of hiring the wrong person, be unclear about what the job is. A clearly defined position description provides what someone needs to be great at, what they need to be good at and what is irrelevant. For those people who just hire people based on who they like, then this may not matter. But for those looking to bring high performers into their business and are using valid assessments, defining the position is critical to those assessments working.
2. Position Descriptions can help you to attract the right person
What am I signing up for? If it is not clear what the job is, the high performing candidates may opt out of your job offer. This is because they are the type of person to carefully consider their decisions and it also shows that you haven’t put in enough effort to complete a PD. If you can’t be bothered with that, what else will you not be bothered to do?
3. Position Descriptions can help to reduce double-handling or tasks slipping through the cracks
When two people have the same task in their position description, it can result in double handling or worse yet – group think. Whether it’s no one’s job or everyone’s job, having clarity over whose job it is, helps to get over this hump of confusion. Similarly, the assumption that a task sits with a person who doesn’t know it’s their job (or is in denial about it) can create a lot of noise around the task.
4. Position Descriptions can assist with reducing excessive hand-offs
By completing a position description exercise that looks at a business holistically, you can identify the best way to organise tasks for the greatest efficiency. There are often tasks that have evolved over time as the business has grown and in many cases the person completing it is only doing so because that’s what has always happened. The impact is that they become a bottleneck for everyone else, resulting in poor customer experience.
Performance and Development
5. Position Descriptions can help with people performing the position you actually want done
Most of us like doing certain things in our job and dislike other parts of it. There are tasks that we may not even complete at all. It’s only once we review what the position is meant to be and compare that to what is taking place right now, that we identify the gaps. Alternatively, where we have a clear position description from the start, the conversation can focus more on what the High Value Activities are within that position that each employee should be focused on to best help the business. Once we have developed the HVAs, then we can talk about how they can find their way into the calendar every week.
6. Position Descriptions can form the basis of competencies and development
What should be in the training plan of a new starter? If a position description is clearly defined, it creates a roadmap for what you should be training people one. You can then circle back to it to check in and see where they are at with their development. The tasks should all be visible and accessible, which reduces the awkwardness of discussing competency in a role. Similarly, for those aspiring to the next level, a position description can help provide clarity to a junior employee on the gaps they need to close.
7. When dealing with performance matters, Position Descriptions can be a reference point for what they are required to do.
One of the most common performance issues that exists across all organisations is this: the employee wants to do part of the role, but not all of the role. Why? Because they don’t like doing certain aspects of the role and they lack the motivation and/or competence to overcome this hurdle. The position description can help with everyone being on the same page as to what the job is.
Risk and compliance
8. When looking at whether someone is physically able to perform the inherent requirements of the role, Position Descriptions help to define what this is.
Some businesses will have a process where they ask a new employee to provide information on any pre-existing injuries that would prevent them from performing the job. This is usually the case in physically demanding positions, although the same can be done for any position. The trouble is that their method for doing so is not robust, as they have not defined the inherent requirements for the position. If I have a shoulder injury and you are clear that the inherent requirements of the position require lifting above my head, then it is harder to deny than if you don’t be explicit about it.
9. Position Descriptions are referred to in most employment agreements
This is an obvious practical part of offering a job to an employee. Your employment agreement (contract) will refer to a position description. If there is not one that exists or if it is inaccurate or vague, then it makes for a less robust agreement. Also, whilst modern awards can sometimes be confusing at the best of times, if you haven’t got a position description to compare it to, then it makes it that much harder. The impact of getting this wrong could result in being in breach of a modern award term or potentially underpayment. These breaches can come with fines and stress that you don’t want to be getting.
10. When restructuring and having to justify why a position has changed (or not changed), the Position Description forms the basis for that justification
You can’t plan for restructuring or redundancies that are going to take place far into the future. The point at which you realise you need to take this action is too late if you don’t already have a position description. If you are making the argument that a role hasn’t changed substantially and therefore would not trigger redundancy or conversely if you are arguing it has changed sufficiently to trigger a person’s position being at risk, if there is no starting position your argument is more open to challenge.
Not all position descriptions are created equally and not all processes for developing position descriptions are created equally. Don’t mistake your borrowed version from your friend as having anywhere near the same impact as doing it properly. By investing in the right expertise, as well as your time and focus to get your position descriptions correct, you will save yourself headaches in the long run. You can choose to wait until you have learned the lessons directly, or else invest the time and effort now knowing that the above is true, reaping the rewards for years to come. It’s not about whether you love documents or not – it’s about good businesses practices that help you achieve what you want.