What is the point of job descriptions?

That is a question you will often be asked by clients.

Another is “Are these job descriptions ok?” which, if you think about it, can only be answered after answering the first question.

The point of job descriptions is the same as the point of a vision statement, or a strategy, or objectives.  To communicate something.  In this case, to communicate the reason the role exists and how success will be measured.

If the effectiveness of a communication is measured by the change it brings about then many job descriptions are completely ineffective.  Hardly surprising when:

  • They run to several pages and are stuffed with platitudes and standard phrases;
  • There is no simple statement of why the role exists;
  • Responsibilities large and small are jumbled together in no apparent order as if in an attempt to record every minor task the role might possibly be involved with;
  • Details of how and when to do things clutter the job description instead of being confined to the Operating Manual;
  • No clear means of measuring these responsibilities are given, whilst uninformative but faintly ominous words like “key”, “critical”, “timely” and “high quality” litter the document;
  • They appear to have been created by someone who was in two minds as to whether they were writing a job description or an advertisement for a job vacancy.

The thing is, creating a useful job description (one that explains what is important and could be understood and remembered by a seven-year-old or a Sun reader) takes much more time and thought than just…creating a job description.  Like marketing or strategy, nine-tenths of the task lies in thinking and one-tenth in writing.  Too often these ratios appear to have been reversed.