Why JDs are broken and how we can get our people to do what’s required

When I explain what services we offer at edge, I often get asked if we help write Job Descriptions. The short answers is “Yes!” and the long answer is more complex. In this post I want to explore with you the current state of JDs in organisations and new ways of getting your people to do what they need to do.

So what are Job Descriptions? Let’s look at the high and diverse demands we have of them:

We want them to be a talent attraction tool that, once thrown out there, will get the right people to walk in for interviews!  We expect them to facilitate the manager’s job (i.e. drive behaviour and performance among our staff)! We also ask of them to be the referee in ugly moments: “You didn’t perform according to, erm, laid-out expectations, so we decided to let you go”. Then obviously they’re also a legal requirement andneed to be attached to employment contracts.

And yet, little thought, skill and effort is put in, resulting in a chaotic picture in companies.

In typical companies of 15 staff, between 3 and 10 people do not have a Job Description. Employees can very rarely access their colleagues’ JDs (and especially not their boss’). At least three different templates can be in play in one company: some outlining numerical goals, some outlining career paths, some outlining skill requirements for the role, and so on. The staff themselves tell us that they haven’t opened their JDs for many months and that they don’t fully remember what they say.

When we collect and analyse a company’s JDs, we find considerable overlap between them, and also key gaps, where on paper noone is in charge of key business processes. Most importantly, the Job Descriptions hardly ever outline how people should view their role in relationship to external and internal business environment and priorities.

What we are experiencing – and you might agree – is that what gets done in a working week is determined by pop-up emergencies, the manager’s intuition, and what people find energy for, more than job descriptions.

Our advice: don’t get stuck on Job Descriptions – find a system that serves your company

In our work with small and growth-oriented companies we see the realities of Job Descriptions every day and we know that the old system isn’t working in the new world. 2016 is not about me doing my job and you doing your job (only)! It’s about us working together to answer the constantly changing business demands.

And entrepreneurs sense this – gut feelings tells them that updating written Job Descriptions on a monthly base is not a good use of their time. What we’d love you to do is take the next step:

What will set you apart as an innovative company is finding YOUR system of allocating roles and tasks and aligning your staff to the business priorities. You know that you have found the right one when your people collaborate and innovate together, when they reduce handover time between any two people or departments without you getting involved, and when individuals raise flags and create solutions to issues that are crucial to the company’s success.

Innovation is required – Four things that your role allocation system needs to do for you:

  • Harness someone’s strength to get results. No two individuals are the same. Even if your last Head of Sales and the new one have a similar CV (which is already rare) they will still have different approaches to delegation, to teamwork and to decision making, and different tasks will give them energy.  Your system of allocating work needs to harness the individuals’ strengths and approaches – otherwise you are setting them (and in turn your company) up for failure. Forget what is ‘typically done by someone with this title’ but rather cross-allocate work in innovative ways in conversation. As M-Kopa’s CEO Jesse Moore told me, “we don’t find great people for jobs, we find jobs for great people”.
  • Ownership: – read ‘accountability’. You need exactly one person to be ultimately accountable for a given domain. If people feel that the buck doesn’t really stop with them, they will be less motivated to do a great job. Why? Because autonomy is a key human need! When you delegate accountability you also need to delegate the decision authority that will allow the person to best deliver on this issue. Stop yourself and colleagues from getting into other people’s business. Insist on clarity of role all the time (some useful tips here).  If you don’t trust your staff to deliver, then perhaps you have defined the role too widely or too vaguely. If you don’t trust someone to deliver even though the role is clearly defined, then deal with that separately. Are you finding it generally hard to trust others? Do you see a gap in the person’s capacity? Is it the wrong person on the job?)
  • Effective and efficient collaboration. Think football (or rugby if you prefer): What does it mean to be a striker? A mid-fielder? A fly-half? Getting clarity on where people are supposed to ask and give help to each other will make sure that in the heat of business they will collaborate without fear and doubts! You need transparency in who does what, and how you expect roles to overlap and intertwine. In turn it avoids endless meetings and everyone being CCed in every email.
  • Agile ways of pivoting people’s roles. If you use lean methodologies to evolve your business (whether conscious or unconscious) then you expect your priorities and product delivery processes to change constantly and rapidly: some things change every week, others change every quarter. But the truth is that the changes will not follow a calendar; they are determined organically by your market learnings. Therefore we find scheduled reviews of JDs are inadequate. Your process needs to allow anyone to call for a “role allocation review” at any time!

What you can do right now?

  1. Find out how well your current system of allocating roles and tasks is serving you! Have a conversation with your teams: Ask them questions like: “Last Monday morning, how sure were you about what you were supposed to do that week?”, “What are the 3 most important things that this business needs from you this quarter?”, “What do you know for a fact that you are allowed to decide by yourself?”, “Where do you think you have to consult others before acting?”, “How would you like to be rewarded for success in your role?” (While touching on rewards, the answers to the last one will tell you whether your team clearly puts individual goals to their roles.)  Mostly content yourself with listening here, let them do 95% of the talking.
  2. Distinguish what the lawmakers need from you (to keep the Nation’s workers safe) and what your company needs from you (to fulfil the purpose you set out with, across all three bottom lines: social, environmental and financial); the two are very different! Once you accept that you as management need to fulfil both needs, you gain the freedom and willpower to experiment with the right internal ‘role allocation and collaboration’ system. You might even end up scratching the term ‘Job Description’ entirely!
  3. Make the role conversation public: Lead the team in making full use of the office as ‘your workshop’, asking them to visualise what they deem helpful to perform: a board for priorities and objectives, drawing workflows, making individual and group goals public, clarifying decision matrixes, etc. It will cost you time (approximately one day) and some money (for materials such as paints, flipchart paper, cardboard, post-its and a team lunch). Repeat this quarterly, with the aim of reviewing, re-writing and refining who does what, what quantity and quality is required and how people collaborate!
  4. Talk to us to find out how we can support you in getting the ‘Right Person on the Right Job’, for example in having helpful conversations, identifying people’s strengths and capacities, mapping roles and accountabilities and finding the right system of tracking who does what with you!