Why Job Descriptions Matter

Ron Jones

One of the challenges for HR is preparing job descriptions that are effective in addressing the strategic needs of the organization and linking this to the outcomes expected of any particular position.

Somehow we seem to have separated the job from the organization in such a way that we describe the focus of the organization in strategic terms but describe jobs by reference to the tasks they perform. Managers have clearly decided that the best way to control the workforce is to describe jobs in this way and this has been aided and assisted by HR departments.


Interestingly, of course, the position descriptor then becomes fairly useless as a reference point for performance development and management. Most people are capable of demonstrating that they can easily undertake the tasks in the position descriptor since these are usually set in such a way that they describe what the job used to do, not what it needs to do. Sadly, someone who can’t do the tasks assigned to them is probably not going to benefit from any performance development process.

Position descriptors need to be outcome focused and linked directly to the areas of accountability in a strategic or business plan.

I recently reviewed and rewrote a set of position descriptors for a large service sector organization that had used a very traditional task description system that categorized activities according to whether they were performed daily, weekly, monthly or occasionally, and the percentage of time to be spent on each task group.

Not surprisingly, this agency experienced a high degree of turnover from staff whose commitment and loyalty to the organization was affected by a high level of control and what they also perceived to be a lack of trust.

By changing the description of the roles to reflect the strategic nature of the position, and through developing a strong link between the successful achievement of position outcomes and organizational success, we were able to reduce turnover and improve morale.

This change was only possible because the CEO recognized the benefit of doing something different and being prepared to adopt a practical and relatively easy to use system. A similar approach has been adopted by another service sector organization and is being implemented within an expanding resource sector operation.

Every organization sets out to establish a performance culture and attempts to reinforce this through a management and development system.

We need to understand that when we recruit people or promote them, we are usually looking to match their capability and potential with the future needs of the organization. To limit this possibility by inappropriate job descriptions is to deny the organization – and the individual – of realizing the full impact of their talents and contribution.

HR owes both parties a better deal.