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5 Problems to Avoid with your IT Job Descriptions

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Job Descriptions seem to be randomly and inconsistently created and used in most organisations.  Why is this?

I believe that this is part of a “legacy” culture still pervading the “people management” space in many organisations.  What do I mean by “legacy” culture?  I mean the old Theory X and Theory Y “models” taught at business schools 30 or so years ago.

What do I mean by “randomly and inconsistently created”?  I mean created for a specific purpose – a hiring situation, or remuneration situation – and then filed away in a drawer and never referred to again.  I mean Job Descriptions that are inconsistent with each other and inconsistent with the new requirements of the workplace.

In the new “performance-base” culture of people management, Job Descriptions are, or at least should be, an extension of Organisation Design, not some random exercise.  Organisation Design defines the structure of the organisation and the roles needed for one purpose only – that is, to implement and drive business strategy to the achievement of business goals.  So the definition of the roles includes, minimally:

  • The outcome, or deliverable, of the role, e.g. “Servers that are operational to Service Level Agreements”
  • The Responsibilities covered by the extent of the role, e.g. “Manage and maintain the organisation’s core business process servers to meet required Service Levels”.
  • The KPIs, or, how will the job be measured, e.g. “Percentage uptime of business process servers”
  • The Competencies, and level of competence, needed in order to be able to deliver the outcomes within the performance measure.

All other aspects of the Job Description either expand on these 4 core elements of a Job Description or are descriptive of a potential candidate for sourcing purposes.

  • Tasks – expand on Responsibilities
  • Qualification – expansion of Competencies
  • Experience – expansion of Competencies
  • Prior Knowledge – expansion of Competencies

Even worse, when organisations implement HRIS systems, after the initial “takeon”, there is virtually no control, or governance, over what jobs are added to the system, what jobs need to be removed from the system – or made redundant, how to ensure consistency of similar roles across the organisation, whether or not there are incumbents in each of the defined roles, how one grows from one job to the next, ….  Data integrity is a major concern with most implemented HRIS systems today.

So, what are the problems, and what do we need to put in place to ensure better integrity of the Roles defined to drive business performance.

  1. Job Descriptions written around a person, or incumbent, rather than the outcomes that are needed by the business.  Job Descriptions are often changed to follow the movement of the original incumbent.  This generally happens when remuneration issues become apparent.  In today’s performance-based culture, this is particularly bad practice.  There should be a Job Description for each level of a job that defines the requirements of the level of the job.  Incumbents are then able to grow from one level to another in a structure predefined by strategy.
  2. No process around what tasks need to be performed and how to combine them into a job.  Similar to the problem above, tasks are sometimes grouped into a Job Description depending on the ability of the present incumbent.  This is a legacy of the old method of Job Analysis used by many HR consultants.  As with the above, this is just not good practice today.  Tasks should be grouped to meet outcomes at a specific level, taking into consideration the complexity of the tasks for each level.
  3. There is no governance to manage what Job Descriptions are developed and how they are managed, changed and used in the organisation.  In many cases a “job” is created out of expedience instead of out of strategic necessity.  There could be a interdepartmental communication problem and, instead of fixing the problem – improve communication and co-operation, a new job is created to “bypass” the problem.  When creating a new job, the career path of that job needs to be taken into account.  When this happens, inconsistencies will soon be identified.
  4. Most often a Job Analysis means interviewing incumbents of the role to determine what they do, and then Job Descriptions are drafted from this information.  Instead, the structure of the organisation needs to be reviewed together with management to establish the roles needed to drive business performance.  Job Description should be drafted from this information with reference to Subject Matter Experts when necessary.
  5. Job Descriptions are quickly put together for specific hiring situations, and then filed and never used again – unless a legal situation arises, and then it’s generally too late!  Job Descriptions should be written for the structure of the organisation based on the roles needed to deliver strategic goals.  If you find that you are needing to draft a new Job Description for an urgent hiring situation – STOP, this is a classic symptom that something is wrong.  There is a deeper problem in play.

All of these problems really point to a lack of Workforce Strategy and Planning and a lack of focus on the tasks that need to be performed and the competence needed to perform them in order to drive business performance.

Please contact us if you are interested in how to implement a “performance-based” culture in your organisation.

2 Comments

  1. Steve Wilheir

    Job Descriptions, in and of themselves, are concepts that harken back to a day of treating a person as a cog to be freely interchangeable with one another. The thing to avoid in your job description would appear to be the act of writing one, in itself. Kaizen and Agile cultures teach us that workers should be multi-talented, hold multiple roles, and not be stuck in a single slot. Hiring for the skill ignores the person.

    • Gail Sturgess

      Hi Steve. Firstly, Job Descriptions are an essential element of Organisation Design. Secondly, they are not there for the sole purpose of the “people” of the organisation. I agree that the way Job Descriptions were done in the past were, at best, inaccurate. This is the point of this particular blog post. Job Descriptions should define the jobs that exist in an organisation, and those jobs should be defined based on the contribution of the job to organisational effectiveness. If this is done correctly, each employee will be able to define their own career path within the organisation, and will know what skills and competencies they need in order to grow in the organisation. Job Descriptions, if done correctly, set people free – they don’t tie you down.

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