Job Descriptions – A Portrait or Snapshot


Job descriptions seem to have a certain amount of authority built into them. They can describe the job for the new hire and be a reference for the last word in duties.

The problem is that nothing remains the same for very long. Constant operational changes and market pressures can make even new job descriptions obsolete within months. Job descriptions should be seen as living documents that require frequent updating.

Particularly in start-ups where duties and responsibilities are evolving, job descriptions should not be taken too literally. Entire functions can suddenly shift or be outsourced, leaving your staff questioning what they are supposed to do. Here are some principles about job descriptions we have found helpful:

  • Hire the person, not the job. The job you hired them for may not be the job in which they excel. The person may be worth keeping even if they are not performing well in their original job. If they demonstrate the ethics and quick learning abilities you seek, they will apply those attributes no matter what they are doing. You may soon discover they are better suited for some other job.
  • Cover all the bases (but not necessarily by the same person). When you organize your business, don’t forget to take a micro view of each job description. Your goal is to cover all the bases with the people who are best suited to handle those components. By identifying the components independent of the job descriptions, you become more flexible and have the luxury of building the job for the person instead of the other way around.
  • Define the job in customer service terms. Every job description should begin with a preamble that states what your company produces and how this particular job helps make that happen. Make sure everyone gets a flow chart that shows how their paycheck, bonus and benefits get from your customer to them. Identify the performance gauging metrics for each job. Develop pay for performance compensation systems based on your company’s sales.
  • Reorganize often. Every time someone leaves your company, you have an opportunity to reshuffle the deck. Match your people’s personal skills with the various tasks in your company. Ask each member of your staff if they are happy with the assorted components of their jobs. Put the components of the job just vacated up for discussion. You may be surprised at the horse-trading that takes place! The job opening you end up with may look quite different from the one that was just vacated.
  • Let your people write their own job descriptions. Every year have your people update their job descriptions with what they are really doing now. This will help with training in the future and send your people a message that you value them and their approach to the job more than a static description that may be obsolete. Give your staff a chance to discover more efficient ways to perform or communicate. They will take ownership of the performance metrics if they have a voice in their creation and refinement.

Keep your company up to date. Engage your people in the process of creating and updating their own job descriptions. Allow them to show you where they excel. Make the job description a current, living snapshot, and not a stale, portrait, wall hanging.


About Michael Houlihan & Bonnie Harvey

Starting in a laundry room with no money or industry knowledge, they built the iconic Best-Selling Barefoot Wine Brand - without advertising. In 2005, they monetized their brand equity and now offer proven business principles and real world experience. Visit our YouTube Channel →

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