Achieve Employee Excellence with Effective Job Descriptions

Although creating and maintaining job descriptions are considerable tasks, most employers recognize how indispensable the end results are in helping staff understand their responsibilities. After all, without a job description, how can an employee properly commit to, or be held accountable for, a position?

But the usefulness of job descriptions doesn't end there. In fact, for business leaders they are such important tools that management authorities call them "essential building blocks"- not just for human resources departments but for the effective functioning of an entire organization. Their contributions to improving an employer's business include:

  • Show how an employee's work contributes to the overall goals of the business
  • Aid communication and feedback between a job incumbent and his or her supervisor
  • Reduce subjective interpretation of job requirements
  • Clarify training, motivation, and coaching needs
  • Expedite recruitment, hiring, promoting, development of salary scales, performance appraisals, discipline, conflict resolution, succession planning and firing (by giving the employer an objective basis for measurement and decisions)
  • Provide systematic tools to survey a company's organizational structure and work flow and ensure all necessary activities are covered by one job or another
  • Help identify outsourcing requirements

Writing job descriptions

As a quick review, the essential ingredients of a typical job description fill one to three pages and include:

  • Job Title
  • Department
  • Reporting Structure - The management or supervisory position to whom the role reports and subordinates who will report to it directly
  • Position Summary - Outlines why the position exists, its main purpose, objective, function, responsibilities, and scope
  • Minimum Education &/or Specific Work Experience Required
  • Minimum Key Skills, Knowledge, and Competencies - The skills the candidate needs to walk in the door with
  • Essential Job Functions - The principal tasks that are critical to job success. Often these are represented by a key verb followed by a measurable or observable end result and/or the main way(s) it is accomplished. As a benchmark, some HR consultants recommend including each duty comprising at least 5% of the incumbent's time. Still others say that limiting the list to      around 8 to 12 tasks is ideal, although smaller organizations whose staff cover a broader range of duties may list as many as 15. Most agree that job descriptions with more are too long, and such detail belongs in a standard operating procedures manual. Additionally, to avoid situations where employees only do what is defined on the job description, it is customary to add an extra line that reads: "Perform other tasks or duties as assigned"
  • Key Results / Deliverables - Indicates in general terms how the employee's success will be measured. E.g.: "Maintain all projects on committed schedule and above budgeted gross margins"
  • Contacts - People with whom the incumbent will have most on-the-job contact, whether internal, external, via face-to-face or phone communication
  • Equipment Utilized - Routinely used machinery, tools, and software
  • Working Conditions - Factors such as noise, exposure to weather or hazardous conditions, and any physical demands such as heavy lifting. Should also include work hours or such specialized requirements as handling confidential data

Where to get help

More detailed help is available for employers facing the daunting task of writing job descriptions through membership-based industry associations like PIA/GATF (Printing Industries of America / Graphic Arts Technical Foundation.) Their Job Description database includes samples compiled from member companies' submissions, as well as guidelines on how to write and maintain descriptions. And their Learning Center provides industry-specific job profiles listing related skills, knowledge, compensation, job outlook, publications, and training opportunities.

As representatives of North America's leading professional placement firm specializing in the graphic communications industry, PrintLink's managers can also offer assistance with job profile development. Our comprehension of the industry, as well as our constant interface with both companies and candidates, makes us an ideal resource for managers trying to develop a specific job outline and description. What we offer is market intelligence. We cannot - and do not - disclose discretionary information entrusted to us by our client companies or candidates.

Engage your employees

By far one of the most effective ways to construct effective job descriptions is to get incumbents to write down what they do. They're the ones who know best. At PrintLink we see informative lists of essential job functions all the time in candidates' resumes. The same type of information can be easily compiled in the workplace via questionnaire and transposed onto a job-description form.

Having the employees who do the work develop the job description creates buy-in and ownership. It becomes a source of pride for them. And as the company brings on new people to fill positions, incumbents are eager to help the newcomers perform the job effectively-because it's theirs.

Such leadership strategies for creating an environment that gives employees reasons to care and keeps them engaged, is good business. Engaged employees go beyond their job descriptions to help other employees and/or customers and promote company branding. They also exhibit improved productivity, less absenteeism, and reduced turnover - all adding measurably to a company's bottom line.

Researchers have also determined that employees are more likely to be engaged if they know what you expect of them, understand where they fit into your company, and have a sense of larger purpose and measurable achievement. Well-crafted job descriptions further all these goals. The more accurately and realistically they clarify job requirements and demonstrate to employees how their position fit into the bigger picture of your company's mission, the more likely your people will feel motivated to do a good job. It also helps if job descriptions identify clear goals so that employees can see evidence of their own progress.

Other keys to engaging employees are to ensure that they feel valued and developed. Effective job descriptions are highly influential in demonstrating how important each position is to the company and the value it places on staff. They also act as benchmarks to help employers recognize and eliminate barriers to individual achievement. And besides clearly defining each job, the best managers give their staff real opportunities for growth and learning by helping them build on their strong points. Job descriptions provide a superb diagnostic tool to help managers pinpoint each employee's strengths and also to capitalize on those strengths for the wellbeing of the company and its clients.

Inject flexibility

Job descriptions need to be flexible for two major reasons. The first is that they are never final. Rather, job descriptions are continual works in progress and should never be considered finished. Due to everything from organizational change to the evolution of new technologies to personal growth, they should be reviewed at least once a year by both supervisor and the employee.

Second and perhaps most importantly, good job descriptions use flexibility to promote respect, to encourage professional and personal development of employees, and to avoid the pitfalls of micromanaging. In practice this means that, rather than simply telling employees what to do by giving them a static list of tasks to perform, the most effective job descriptions empower employees to exercise some initiative, make their own choices, and find their own solutions. They should also be supple enough to encourage employees to grow within their positions and learn to make progressively larger contributions to your company.

For example, are your inventory managers stuck "keeping your facility well stocked by routinely ordering supplies and consumables", or are they "developing and implementing an ordering and supply system that promotes efficiency, maximizes storage space, and realizes cost savings for the company"? Open descriptors like the second provide guidance and a clear picture of expected outcomes, while empowering employees to think for themselves. But at the same time, make sure you reference procedural parameters, because there is a fine line between empowering employees and giving them a license for unilateral actions and empire-building.

At PrintLink we feel the important thing about job descriptions is not only what you say but also how you say it. The best job descriptions work as tools to get more out of your people. They're not about cookie-cutter templates; they're about developing your staff to their greatest potential.

Additionally, when your company utilizes the services of placement specialists like ourselves to help with your hiring needs, your job descriptions equip us to provide comprehensive and streamlined assistance. And by passing these documents along to well qualified candidates, we are better able to acquaint them with the value your company places on the roles and the employees who fill them - in other words, some of the reasons why yours is a good company to work for.