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Time to Rethink the Job Description

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

I’ve worked in several companies and organizations in my career life. Most have made a lot of noise about the importance of the Job Description (JD). According to the Oxford dictionary, the job description is “a formal account of an employee's responsibilities.” Many companies embark on bold efforts to establish a JD for every position, even adding the development of Job Description to someone’s job description.  

The Problem with Job Descriptions 

One challenge is that many of these noble efforts to document JD’s for everyone in the organization stall out before completion Most people assigned to develop the JD’s have other duties in their job descriptions so they can’t work full time on the JD definition until completed. Another problem is that JD’s tend to be static as if duties are well defined and don’t change. All while the world, the marketplace and the organization changes constantly and at an accelerating pace. Most peoples’ job duties change before the written job description comes out of the printer. Yet a third problem is that most JD’s don’t provide for any reason for an employee to be engaged in their work or work toward the betterment of the organization in serving customers and constituents. Here are some ideas that may help find and retain engaged employees, hold them accountable for their work and even provide incentives based in individual, measured performance. 

Include Employees in Entrepreneurial, Management and Technical Aspects 

Most people in today’s marketplace, especially the younger ones, want to be a part of something, not just doing work. I wish I had one dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say “No one wants to work anymore.” It’s true that many don’t want to work just for the sake of working; however, many of those same people will work if they feel like they are part of a team that is doing something useful for customers or the community. We’re going to borrow some concepts from Michael Gerber’s “E-Myth Revisited” He correctly states that all small businesses must have an entrepreneur, a manager and a technician to be successful. The entrepreneur is responsible for coming up with new and better ways to serve customers and solve their problems. The manager is responsible for the business management part of the business and developing systems to provide the solutions to the customers and the technician is the one that actually performs the work. 

Here's how the introductory section of a Job Description might look to demonstrate how the employee will be engaged for more than just the daily technical job duties. 

The Entrepreneur’s Hat, aka Thinking Cap. 

All of us wear the Entrepreneur’s Hat (we each have our own hat) and as such are responsible for always thinking of new and improved programs so we can fulfill our mission which is about serving our customers in new and better ways. 

The Manager’s Hat 

In this phase, we all share the responsibility for doing the work in figuring out how to implement and improve our operations, turning our work into repeatable, documented processes to achieve efficiency, quality and repeatability in our work thus providing a consistently exceptional experience for customers.  

The Technician’s Hat 

We wear the Technician’s Hat when we do the work of our repeatable documented processes. The output of our documented processes is a system providing a snapshot at any given time of our “job description” of what we do on a daily basis when we’re not wearing the Entrepreneurs or Managers Hats. Our system provides that everyone has the information and tools at hand to perform our work in a high-quality and highly-efficiency manner. 

Collecting Good Ideas 

There needs to be a methodology that provides employees with opportunities to share ideas about how to better serve customers in the most efficient and innovative ways. These topics can be covered, and ideas collected during regular staff meetings and/or occasional strategy brainstorming sessions. Someone or some team should be in charge of organizing the ideas into process improvement projects executed by the people in the organization most effected by the process being improved. When employees see that the ideas are evaluated and some turned into improvement projects, they will feel like they are making a contribution beyond just performing the daily technical work. Conversely, the quickest way to DISENGAGE employees is to collect ideas for improvement and then never do anything with any of them. 

Tying Compensation to Performance 

Finally, tying some of the employees’ compensation package to organizational performance will help reinforce the retention and engagement aspects of the broadened job description I’ve described here. There are lots of options when it comes to tying employee compensation to performance. Some of these can become topics for future columns. In the meantime, if you manage a service business, you might Google “Quality Drive” software, an application that provides for the collection of customer feedback after each job as a way to tie part of a compensation package directly to customer feedback. The employee knows that the happier the customer, the better the compensation. 

Changing the Job Description, essentially the way you think about employee engagement and compensation, may not totally cure the problems of “finding people willing to work,” however, the companies and organizations that encourage the wearing of the three hats will tend to get the best of the workforce. 

Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Fab Lab ICC or Independence Community College. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org. 


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