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IT Job Descriptions – Their Role and Purpose

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“As a leader, you can actively shape your organisation.  It is probably the most important role that you have”[1]

The “structure” of an organisation refers to the formal way in which people and work are grouped into defined units.  The structure sets out the basic power relationships in the organisation – how limited resources such as people and funds are allocated and co-ordinated.  The structure defines which organisation components and roles are most central for execution of the strategy.  IT Job Descriptions define the duties, essential functions and requirements for each position in the structure and are an integral part of the performance management and evaluation system.

How Job Descriptions Come About

The structure of the organisation is defined by the strategy of the organisation.  Strategy sets the direction of the organisation: vision and mission, short- and long-term goals, source of competitive advantage, and how the organisation will differentiate itself in the marketplace.  If strategy is not clear, there is no criteria on which to base other organisation design decisions.

The structure determines where formal power and authority are located and comprises the organisational components, their relationships, and hierarchy.

As important as the structure itself, are the roles within the structure.  An organisational role is a distinct organisational component defined by a unique outcome and set of responsibilities.  “Probably no other organisation design activity is as important to the employees as the definition of the role.”[2]  One of the most common causes of frustration and inefficiency for employees is the confusion over roles, responsibilities and work handoffs.

Roles are defined by two dimensions: outcomes and responsibilities.  “The role description is not intended to list every task and activity.  Rather it defines what is unique and different in each role and the value it is expected to provide the organisation”.[3]

An “outcome” is an end state to be achieved – the results that are to be obtained.  For instance, an “outcome” for the role of Network Administration would be “networks that are operational in accordance with service level agreements”.

“Responsibilities” are the high-level tasks to be performed that will close the gap between the current state and work and the needed end states (outcomes).  “Tasks” then become the means to address the problems and seize the opportunities – as defined by strategy.

Figure 1 below depicts, from the bottom up, the route necessary for creating effective Job Descriptions.

Figure 1:  The Source of Job Descriptions

Uses of Job Descriptions

Good job descriptions are one of the most versatile management tools.  A well-crafted Job Description identifies a job by title, outcomes, responsibilities and tasks and also spells out the knowledge, abilities and skills required to perform a job successfully.

The Job Description is not merely an aid in the job-recruiting process, but also as an outline for reporting relationships and working conditions.  If properly constructed, Job Descriptions are used for:

  • Recruitment.  Recruitment decisions are “big” decisions.  An incorrect placement can cost the company dearly.  A good Job Description helps to ensure that candidates for the position are objectively and
  • Essential job function analysis.  A well-developed job description can contain prerequisites for positions such as educational requirements, employment experience, physical requirements, supervisory responsibilities and certificates or licenses needed.
  • Compensation.  Job descriptions can be helpful in developing standardised compensation programs with minimums and maximums for each position or range of positions.
  • Training and employee development.  Training and development may emanate from Performance Management as well as from Career Management in the organisation.  The Job Description is used to identify “gaps” – in performance or in career development – that can be remedied by training, coaching, or other employee development interventions.
  • Recognition and rewards.  When using the descriptions as a baseline for performance, they can also be used as a tool to encourage employee performance “above and beyond” the job description in order to receive recognition and rewards.
  • Labour Relations.  If and when necessary, Job Descriptions are a vital tool to illustrate that an employee isn’t adequately performing job functions.  This is essential for correct Disciplinary processes and procedures.  Well-developed, accurate job descriptions may also prove useful in providing a defense against charges of employment discrimination beyond the recruiting process.
  • Performance management.  The “Key Performance Indicators” in the Job Description define the “Outcomes” in quantitative terms so that they can be measured in the normal course of work.   The achievement, or non-achievement, of these metrics should be able to be measured objectively and form the basis of employee coaching and development.

Job Descriptions have changed over the years.  When it comes to job descriptions today, flexibility is the key.  It is preferable to create more generic job descriptions that emphasise expectations and accountabilities, rather than specific tasks, thereby encouraging employees to focus on results rather than job duties.  A more wide-ranging job description is also easier to maintain – it doesn’t require modification with every minor change in duties.

Where To in the Future

The emphasis in most IT organisations today is on Employee Retention.  Severe shortages of high-level technical and managerial skills have lead to a “sellers’ market, and organisations are using “remuneration” as leverage to encourage employees to leave current employment to join the organisation.  Chances are – if they joined the organisation for the money – they will probably leave for the same reason.  Money does not buy “engagement”!

The term “Talent Management” used to mean identifying the top potential “talent” in the organisation and focusing on developing that “talent” for the benefit of the organisation.  Today “Talent Management” (or Human Capital Management) has a much broader meaning.  To maximise return on investment in employee selection and development, smart companies are integrating what have traditionally been separate HR initiatives into a cohesive “hire to retire” Human Capital Management strategy.

Developed to integrate all the tools and processes associated with people and performance, the Human Capital Management approach aligns the goals of employees and the goals of the company to meet specific, measurable, and realistic business objectives.  While the promises of Human Capital Management are great – increased adaptability, enhanced workforce performance, and the ability to do more with existing resources – the challenges are significant.

To deliver results, strategic decision-makers in the organisation must integrate actionable, objective, and relevant information about employee skills and capabilities.  They must put that information to work on multiple fronts, from organisational design and workforce planning to competency management, recruitment, employee development and performance management.[4]

Figure 2 below shows how Job Descriptions develop into Competency Profiles that then enable the organisation to integrate traditional HR processes as well as additional, more strategic, processes such as Workforce Planning, Career Management and Succession Planning.

This dimension enables the organisation to answer strategic questions such as:

  • What are the “core competencies” required by the organisation to delivery strategy?
  • How many of these “competencies” exist in the organisation and where are they situated?
  • How difficult is it to develop these competencies?

Figure 2: Integrated Human Capital Management

  • How many of these competencies exist in the “pool” of talent in the marketplace?
  • What roles are “closest” to strategy delivery in the organisation?
  • What competencies are needed for these roles?
  • Where are these roles situated in the structure of the organisation?
  • Who are are “high performers” and our “high potentials” in the organisation?
  • Where are they situated in the structure of the organisation?
  • Do they have and use the “core competencies” needed by the organisation?
  • Are they in the “strategically aligned” roles in the organisation?  If not, why not?
  • What is our Employee Value Proposition?
  • Are we marketing the organisation effectively for effective employee placement?
  • What is our “unique” employee offering that attracts the type of person and skillset that we need?
  • What “metrics” do we need to measure the effectiveness of our human capital?
  • How effective is our human capital at achieving the goals and strategy of the organisation?

Job Descriptions are the “first step” on the ladder towards Integrated Human Capital Management.  As such, they should be described in such a way that they are able to lead to this conclusion.


[1] Jay Galbraith, Diane Downey and Amy Kates, “Designing Dynamic Organisation”, Amacom, 2002.
[2] Jay Galbraith, Diane Downey and Amy Kates, “Designing Dynamic Organisation”, Amacom, 2002, p 81.
[3] Jay Galbraith, Diane Downey and Amy Kates, “Designing Dynamic Organisation”, Amacom, 2002, p 84.
[4] “Strategy: Human Capital Management”, Brainbench, Skills Measurement Report 2003.

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