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Action Verbs and Expected Results in Writing Duty Statements

Action verbs at the beginning of duty statements quickly inform the reader of the kind of action the person is engaged in. Properly chosen verbs tell, with some precision, what the person does.

Should you be including action verbs in duty statements? Read more to find out.

All duty statements should start with an action verb in the present tense such as: plans, assembles, writes, negotiates, and tests. Avoid vague, general verbs such as: engages, handles, acts, does. Each statement should also reflect an objective--what is to be accomplished and what results, outcomes, or outputs are expected--either explicitly stated or implied. Identifiable units of work should appear in these duty statements; unnecessary information should be avoided. Statements should exhibit a terse, direct writing style.
Description of the Depth and Scope of Duties
In writing duty statements, attention should be given to incorporating critical data that define the depth and scope of the duty. Some of the kinds of data that are often useful to include are:
  • Data on resources-tools, equipment, materials, facilities, and information the person uses to execute the duty;
  • Data on where the duty takes place;
  • Data on who else might be involved in the duty (who shares in execution, who receives output, etc.)
  • Data on when or with what frequency the duty is executed;
  • Data on duty regularity; and
  • Data on the conditions under which the duty is performed.
Duty statements must help describe the volume of work--a type of condition--as well as the environmental conditions such as the physical, social, political, technical, and economic climates under which the work is performed. Just describing what is done does not depict the full design of the work.
Sample Duty Statements
Following are some sample duty statements for a typical supervisor who also performs some operative work:
  1. Schedules one week’s work for each of five subordinates, and communicates each worker's assignment to him or her by written reminder prior to 10:00 A.M. on Mondays.
  2. Counsels employees in his or her department to resolve work-related problems that are brought to attention by the employees themselves. Such problems develop at random and average about five per week.
  3. Conducts evaluations in mid-January and mid-July to identify developmental needs of each employee in the department.
  4. Starts up machine number 2 in plant section B, to assure operation of the entire line, on the first and third Saturdays of each month.
  5. Files official institutional documents on policy development in file number 3.
  6. Picks up and delivers crates by fork-lift from incoming trucks parked at the loading dock to the cold storage facility. Does not stack the crates inside the facility.
  7. Decides subordinate requests for time off when time requested is not part of the annual vacation.
  8. Prepares, with input from all subordinates, the annual department budget on pre pared forms submitted by the Accounting Office.
Notice the use of the word “to” in duty statements numbers 2, 3, and 4 above. This word allows you to specifically identify a result or desired objective within the duty statement. One engages in the action specified by the beginning action verb to achieve the result stated later on in the statement.
Note that in item 2, a second sentence is provided to add important data about the timing and volume of work of this type. Note in item 6 that a second sentence is provided for clarity purposes to assure the worker knows the boundaries or limits of his or her job. Task items may include more than one sentence if such adds to the clarity or completeness of the description. Note also that some of the statements indicate where the work is done, some indicate when the work is done, and some indicate task or equipment used.
Suppose an employee has the task of troubleshooting. In the job description you could write: "Troubleshoots problems." However, this really says very little. You should indicate what kind of problems, where in the organization, how frequently, and so on. A better approach would be to present the following statement series: "Troubleshoots electrical system problems, in manufacturing room number 1, to get systems quickly back on line. Initiates troubleshooting at request of machine workers and employs foreman A as an aid. Such problems require about two hours on the average and occur at the rate of approximately ten per month."
Time and priority distributions are two kinds of absolutely essential data, more often than not left out of real-world job descriptions.
Use Time Percentages
In a recent study done by the writer, 90 percent of the job descriptions surveyed listed tasks but gave no information on either how long it took to do each of the tasks or on the relative importance of each of the tasks. Simple listings of tasks without acknowledging the approximate time consumption per task can be very misleading. They do not truly depict the nature of the work. In one job description surveyed, twenty-two tasks were listed. During an interview with the worker on this job it was discovered that over 80 percent of his time was spent on the third task in the list. Certainly the list alone did not tell the true story. By adding time percentages you can tell what demands on the job are really like.
Considering attaching a time percentage to the task category? ‘’Executes other tasks as required by the supervisor" can do for your understanding of the job. It can really show just how structured and definitive the content of a job is. For example, 60 percent attached to this category would tell you the job is relatively undefined.
Indicate Task Importance
It is also valuable to indicate (say on a scale of one to ten) just how important each task in the worker's task repertoire is. With a small effort the supervisor, together with the workers and perhaps other higher level managers, can decide task priorities. Not always are those tasks that consume the most time the most important. Often a decision-making task, which takes only a small percentage of an employee's time, will be judged much more important than some operative task that occupies a high percentage of time. It is important to acknowledge the relative importance of tasks to guide the employees when, for example, they are pressured or bottled up with work and must allow some things to slip. Attached priorities help tell the workers what must be attended to and what can be avoided (at least in the short run).
Matrix formatted job descriptions are used in some companies. They have some ad vantages over the more conventional job description described above but, as yet, are not nearly as popular. The primary advantages of a matrix format are that data are systematically displayed and each task is given standardized treatment. All tasks are described with the same kinds of data. When this is done it is relatively simple to compare tasks and different jobs. Comparison of tasks within a job may be important in establishing task priorities and when considering job redesign among other things. Comparison of jobs is essential, for example, in establishing equitable pay.
This type of job description does not involve preparation of written statements. It assures, however, that a considerable amount of relevant data for each task will be presented without resort to full statements. The tabular presentation allows for rapid identification and comparison of a number of pertinent dimensions of individual task designs. Such a description can be developed for any kind of managerial job as well as for any type of operative job. It may take a little longer to prepare this kind of instrument, however.
The matrix format can easily be expanded to show other bits of information relevant to tasks that are not properly conceptualized as part of the job design but are nonetheless useful data items. For example, person specs and performance criteria can easily be indicated for each task by adding just two more columns. Minimum, or desired, levels (standards) for person specs and performance criteria can also be added. Many firms recognize the value of having all this vital data in one document. The wealth of job-related data and the orderly display of that data made possible by a matrix format can immensely improve the utility of the job description for managing the human resource. Analysis and quantification of job-related information are greatly facilitated with this type of display.
See the following articles for more information: