published November 27, 2017

The Function of Job Descriptions in Maintaining Organizational Control

Do you know how job descriptions support your organization? It all starts with control. Learn more here.

On-again, off-again use of the job description, coupled with one use here, some other use there, is representative of neglect of a vital tool. The potential of the job description can only be fully realized by organizations that make a steady, long-term, company-wide, uniform effort at using them.

Not used because of lack of sufficient detail or usable content. Many managers say they want job descriptions prepared, but they never use them because they are too general and really say little about what the incumbent actually does. Precision and detail are absolutely essential if proper orientation, training, and performance assessment instrument design are to come from them. There is also a tendency for managers to complain that their job description are not valuable and, therefore, not used because the content is not relevant to their objective purposes. The manager may wish to study resources used on the job, but the job descriptions may not mention these. Or the manager may wish to study a job for detection of low time-consuming task items that might possibly be assigned elsewhere, but the job description will not contain task time percentages.

Not used to motivate and lead. One of the most powerful uses of job descriptions is to lead and motivate workers, but this is one of the most infrequent uses of job descriptions. Job descriptions give workers direction. They make things clear to the incumbent like how much effort should be distributed across different duties, how much attention should be given to different duties to assure their accurate completion, and so on. Managers do not need to be around all the time to provide face-to-face leadership and motivation. Much of this can come from the job description. If job descriptions are prepared properly and distributed to workers, workers need only refer to them to obtain much needed information on performance expectations. The clearer the performance expectations, the more motivated one will be.

Not prepared for all employees. All employees should have job descriptions. They are just as useful (and feasible) for top-level managers as for rank and file employees; but many organizations do not have job descriptions for certain professional people and high-level managers. Lack of job descriptions means considerable loss of control of worker behavior and performance. Also when some departments have job descriptions for their people and others do not, the job descriptions in those departments that do have them are rendered less useful because, for example, opportunities for comparing jobs across departments are reduced. Further, having job descriptions for some employees and not others may raise serious questions about workplace ethics and preferential treatment.

Not fully communicated to employees. Some companies have quality job descriptions but they do not tell anyone about them--not even the workers themselves. Some companies keep job descriptions a secret--filed away somewhere, in a rather inaccessible personnel office file. Obviously it does little good to invest in job description preparation if job descriptions are not communicated to employees and their supervisors. Why do companies do this? Usually it is simply because of failure to recognize the utility of the well-prepared job description when placed in the hands of employees and supervisors. Some times it is because managers feel they have greater power over workers if they alone know what the job is really like. Keeping the worker in the dark is a social power strategy preferred by more supervisors than they care to admit.

Use is too mechanic. Some companies, often those that rely on personnel departments for management of the human resource, do not look beyond the job description in human resource management (HRM). They blindly apply the job description in HRM. They assume the job description tells all about a job--or at least all that is important--but this assumption is frequently faulty. Job descriptions are best used by the experienced supervisor who knows full well what the job description is not telling him or her as well as what it is.

Job descriptions have to be applied with an open mind and flexible attitude. For example, if a candidate for a job seems to lack experience in two vital areas of responsibility, mechanical use of the job description might suggest the candidate be dropped from employment consideration. However, the professional user of a job description will look at other factors. Perhaps this candidate has an extremely positive attitude that would be valuable as a stimulus to others in the particular work group of which he or she would be a member. Perhaps the candidate has something in his or her background, like continued arrests for stealing, that should be considered in matching a person to a job but that would not be brought out by strict adherence to job descriptions and associated person specs.

Not used for enforcement of work that needs to be delegated and completed. Employees naturally gravitate toward pursuit of self-interests while at work and toward expenditure of effort and time on the more desirable tasks. This tendency often leads to misdirected effort (from the company's point of view) in a fairly short time if someone is not watching. Managers neglect to use job descriptions to periodically monitor how the workers are spending their time and whether or not that time is being spent on coverage of all essential tasks. Mid-level managers and higher-ups are notorious for neglecting many a small, uninteresting, but nonetheless important task and no one ever catches it until it is too late. Someone must assure that what is in the job descriptions needs to be done. If it does not have to be done, it needs to be taken out of the job description.

Not used because of lack of format comparability from department to department. If job descriptions are not standardized in format across departments, their utility is severely diminished. But many companies do not coordinate job description preparation across departments; they leave it up to individual supervisors. The result is a hodgepodge of styles, structure, and content. Jobs in one area cannot be compared with jobs in another. A company should have an organization-wide policy to help control and coordinate job description preparation and use.

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