Job Descriptions: Painfully Useless Administrivia or Strategic Tool?

Do you have an up-to-date job description? Do all the employees in your organization have up-to-date job descriptions?

Unless you work in a regulated industry that requires job descriptions for all employees, chances are, you don't.


Job descriptions are hard to write.

Keeping job descriptions up-to-date can seem like an unachievable goal in today's fast-paced working world, where constant change has become the norm and jobs are becoming more and more fluid. An employee's role, responsibilities, and accountabilities can change significantly over a six-to-12 month period as a company works to compete or sometimes simply survive.

And many just don't see the value in regularly revisiting and updating job descriptions.

But consider this:

  • One of the basic measures of employee engagement is the feeling "I know what is expected of me at work."
  • Employees who don't know what's expected of them might not be working to help achieve your organization's priorities.
  • Without clear expectations, it's easier to spend time on non-productive work.
  • Unclear or non-existent job descriptions can lead to poor quality job requisitions and poor quality hires, both of which drive up employee turnover.

So providing your employees with role clarity, and communicating expectations is critical to both employee and organizational performance.

Best-practice job descriptions

First, job descriptions should be written by those who truly know the role and its requirements. That means writing and maintaining job descriptions shouldn't be the sole responsibility of HR. Managers and even role incumbents should participate in the effort.

Second, a good job description should clearly outline job accountabilities and performance expectations. The goal should be to outline what it takes to be successful in the role and clarify the expectations for someone working in the job.

Third, the write up needs to use a common, consistent language and structure. Too often job descriptions vary in their content and quality simply because different people wrote them from scratch, without the benefit of things like: a content template, a common competency library, pick lists for requirements, etc. That variation can lead to inconsistent or unfair expectations of employees who are in very similar roles.

Fourth, a best-practice job description should serve as the foundation for all your other talent management programs so that:

  • Job requisitions are in sync with job descriptions, enabling you to attract and hire better candidates.
  • Performance reviews communicate consistent expectations, and employees are fairly evaluated on their performance.
  • Employee goals are in line with and relevant to their job descriptions.
  • Compensation programs fairly reward contributions and levels of accountability.
  • Succession planning programs develop the right knowledge, skills and experience.
  • You can develop a complement of learning activities to build individual and organizational strength.

Is it all worth it?

This all can sound like a tall order.

But organizations that take the time and effort to create and maintain high quality job descriptions for all their staff reap the benefits in terms of increased employee performance, alignment, engagement and retention. And that translates into better business results.

Consuela (Connie) Di Primio is a Customer Account Manager and certified Human Capital Strategist at Halogen Software.