Critical Components of a Good Job Description

Author: Stewart Clark / Date: June 19, 2016

Category: Business Management

Job descriptions are a valuable tool for both staff and employers and unfortunately, they tend to be absent in many businesses.

For the staff member, a good job description provides clarity around the role, what the core responsibilities are, outlines the accountabilities/delegations and shows the associated performance criteria.

For the employer, it provides important boundaries for the staff members to operate within, noting that they are only one staff member in what is typically a larger group. Frequently, it’s only the owner/manager who has full line of sight of all roles, so clear definition of “who is doing what” is important. Job descriptions also provide employers with a valuable tool for hiring and performance monitoring, as they offer a benchmark for performance assessment.

Some businesses are reluctant to provide job descriptions due to the concern that staff members will only “work to what’s written” and “actively avoid” anything not listed. This can happen, but with an appropriately considered job description – this risk can be well mitigated.

Job descriptions can take many different formats; however, I find that the following components deliver a good workable document.

  1. Core functions/responsibilities — Clearly articulate the key functions and responsibilities as they relate to the performance of the staff member. This would include; any technical or operational aspects of the role, the supervisory or managerial responsibilities for people and process (as applicable), communication or influencing skills, along with a generic filler “other functions as deemed necessary/or as advised by….”. Typically, I try to limit the key functions of the role to around 8, noting that each of these may have additional detail.
  2. Performance criteria — Clearly outlines the criteria for the performance measures of the role. Quality, quantity, timeliness, efficiency and accuracy can all be present here. Good performance criteria should be transparent, clearly identifiable to the staff member and something which they can influence with their own personal exertions. Ideally, theis criteria should be reviewed and discussed with the staff member on a regular basis. When considering performance criteria, be conscious of what reporting systems you have to capture “objective data” to assess the performance.
  3. Role competencies — A clean list of the level of skill, knowledge, experience and capability required to appropriately fulfill the performance criteria of the role. This should include formal qualifications (i.e. building license, driver’s license, working with children clearance), physical capability (i.e. ability to lift, climb or work at heights), technical experience/knowledge (i.e. software or specific site experience) and any approach/delivery requirements (i.e. strong interpersonal skills).
  4. Authority/delegations — Describe any areas of responsibility assigned to the role. This may include “authority to approve”, card or procurement decision making and staff management responsibility etc. Financial authorities such as access to the Bank Account or quoting sign – off naturally have an element of risk for the business, so if these are to be part of the role duties, then it is also prudent to consider the relevant oversight controls as well.
  5. Hours and expectations — Covers hours of work, location, flexibility in employment, leave, code of conduct and any other relevant expectations of the role. My personal preference is to have a level of flexibility (both ways) in any form of employment situation, especially where there can be variably in work volumes. If this is desired, then consider up front how it could be described and implemented.
  6. Organisational structure — Confirm the reporting structure within the business, ie. who the role reports to and where it sits in the overall business. Organisational charts can be very useful here. If it is a particularly large business, then an organisational chart for the department plus one for the wider business can quickly and clearly show there the role sits within the wider operation.

For new role applicants, the job description should form part of the recruitment process. For existing staff members where job descriptions are being put in place, then I recommend that the staff member be involved in the production of the job description for their role.

A couple of other suggestions.

  • The job description should show the duties of the role so its clear for all parties what that role is expected to fulfil. It does not however need to show every minute activity within the role. Keeping all of the “process” detail of each role activity separate from the job description provides several benefits.
    • The job description will be contained to a more manageable size, thus allowing better focus on the core functions/responsibilities.
    • Keeping your process steps separate enables the evolution of processes, without the need to continually make adjustments to the job description documents themselves.
  • Job descriptions should be reviewed for correctness and relevance on an annual basis, adjusting as required.
  • All staff should have a current job description in their staff file, along with acknowledgment/acceptance of it.

Well described and documented job descriptions provide clarity and protection for all parties, so they are a must have item for any business which is serious about respecting their employees and drawing the greatest efficiency from them.

Crafting job descriptions is something that many businesses can do themselves, however support from a suitably qualified and experienced HR or business resource is recommended.

For further information or assistance with this topic in your business, contact us today to arrange for a preliminary consultation.