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Why You Shouldn’t View Job Descriptions As Limiting Change

Job descriptions alone are of little value for measuring performance. They tell what areas to look at in evaluating performance but not how to measure it.

Do you tend to view your job descriptions as limiting change in your workers? Find out more here. Job description should not be viewed as limiting change or as restricting what can be delegated. They should be written with an "Other" category built in to allow for different kinds of assignments and should be viewed as something that needs regular updating either as a stimulus for change or in response to work changes. After all, the job description is but a piece of paper. It does not exert direct control over employees in the workplace; managers control.

Not used for fear they are ill-prepared or out-of-date. Often, managers do not bother with job descriptions in the file because of the feeling that those job descriptions were not very well prepared in the first place. Perhaps the manager senses that the person responsible for preparation of the job description lacked expertise or has heard about specific flaws in the data used to compile the job descriptions. If one does not have confidence in the validity of the job description, one is unlikely to use it. Similarly, managers often are aware that the job descriptions for jobs in their areas have not been reviewed and updated for months or years. Using out-of-date documents with irrelevant content simply leads to shoddy management. Rather, it might be best not to use them at all. Companies must develop procedures to make sure job descriptions are prepared by people skilled in such preparation and that they are kept up-to-date.

One other reason job descriptions may not be used is because of perception that the job escapes definition and that many jobs have an uncertain content. You can seldom be sure just what the worker will have to spend time doing. Other jobs, though having stable, definable content for given periods of time, change dramatically in content from one time period to the next--and these time periods may be relatively short. Still, other jobs involve an extremely great variety of tasks--like the job of a handyman. Under such circumstances, managers often see little sense in using job descriptions because they think that the job descriptions cannot possibly reflect reality. The descriptions would be too long, changed too often, or necessarily vague.

Quality job descriptions can be written to accommodate such circumstances and with properly developed procedures, they can be adjusted frequently at very low cost. Task categorizing can be used to prevent excessive numbers of tasks from having to be listed in the job description. Frequent changing of job descriptions is not difficult once a basic job description format is developed and a standard procedure is in place for giving attention to job description change as job design is changed. Jobs with uncertain content can be treated as a probabilistic system-identifying task distributions-or can be described by simply acknowledging the uncertain portion with the category "Other" and attaching an approximate time percentage and priority to it.

Not used because of perception. Job descriptions should not be built around the individual. Organizations will want to adapt jobs to an incumbent’s strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps certain duties should be eliminated from one's job and assigned else where if these duties, for one reason or another, cannot be performed proficiently by the worker. Perhaps the worker should be assigned other tasks, not normally part of the job, to take advantage of special skills or knowledge he or she has. Also, as the employee grows in the job, job content should evolve to take advantage of the increased capacity of the worker. Jobs are, in part, what people make of them.

Recognizing this, some managers feel job descriptions are not appropriate and of little value because they must reflect the character of the incumbent. The content of a job, so goes the argument, is not independent of the particular individual doing the job. This argument continues, pointing out that jobs are built around people. People are not molded to fit jobs. Actually, there is a strong element of truth here. However, most of what the employee does for the organization will be based on organizational need, not on personal need. If jobs were largely products of the individual personality, organizations would soon be out of control. Job descriptions show the necessary organizational need encompassed by jobs.

Misused as a substitute for job evaluation instrumentation. Job descriptions are vital for comparing jobs and establishing fair base wages/salaries, but they are not a substitute for a job factor sheet. To develop wage/salary equity a job factor sheet must be developed and then job descriptions used to determine, from the factor sheet, relative job worth, or scores. The nature of the job and its requirements as depicted by the job description (and person specs) can be assessed and valued by the factor sheet. The job description alone does not permit ease of determining job worth. Determining job worth for pay or other purposes requires a fully developed factor scoring system.

Managers often err in using job descriptions directly in recruiting, selecting, and training. You can use job descriptions directly, certainly, but a much better job of recruiting, selecting, and training can be done if managers go one step beyond the job description and infer a set of person specs with required ability, skill, and knowledge levels clearly defined and put in writing. Job descriptions are too infrequently used for derivation of person spec documents-too often used as a substitute for person specs.

Misused as a substitute for a performance assessment instrument, shows a performance evaluation instrument. Often managers will use job descriptions to pinpoint the kinds of metrics on which employees should be evaluated, but as a performance assessment tool, this is the limit of the job description. Performance assessment done directly with the job description is necessarily a highly subjective affair. One must devise quantity, quality, timeliness, and cost measures (criteria) of each task dimension in the job description and set standards, or desired levels of performance, along each criterion before performance can be assessed. As with person specs, development of performance criteria and standards is one step beyond the job description.

Not used consistently by, and uniformly across, departments. If job descriptions are successfully used for hiring purposes in March, why are they not used in October? If they significantly contribute to proper employee orientation in the production department, why are they not used in engineering? These are legitimate questions that every organization ought to be asking itself Job description usage is usually not planned well in advance and coordinated throughout the organization and as such, inconsistency in usage and lack of uniform usage is one of the most common issues.

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