The Care and Feeding of Job Descriptions

Man Watering a Plant

One of the most interesting parts of my practice is observing how organizations grow and change. Growth often occurs in fits and spurts — and the accompanying pains can be quite distracting. I find that job descriptions almost never keep pace with that evolution. This creates a unique set of challenges as an organization moves forward. Frustration, exhaustion, and even anger are often expressed as roles, responsibilities and relationships within the organization are tested.

Job descriptions certainly aren’t “sexy” — however they remain a necessary facet of any business.

Often, older job descriptions simply don’t reflect the true nature of the work any longer. Roles can morph rather quickly and job descriptions can become increasingly inaccurate. If you have ever heard the excuse, “That’s not my job.” — this may exactly be the case. Confusion concerning task responsibilities can become a serious impediment as a business evolves. This is often insidious.

Sometimes the old job descriptions simply have to go.

In many cases, an entirely new set of tasks evolves and another role needs to be created. In this situation, it is likely the “skill gap” is being covered by other staffers and probably, not all that well.  You may need to act swiftly to dedicate an entirely new position to the tasks at hand. (Don’t get too caught up with the title, just cover the gap quickly.) Have you ever posed the question, “Is there work that needs to be completed regularly, but isn’t?”. This may be an indication that a new role is needed.

Job Descriptions Serve as HR Building Blocks
Job descriptions aren’t all that exciting — none the less, they serve to accurately document the work currently being completed. Moreover, these descriptions should serve as a key reference point for all of your HR functions, most importantly, selection and performance appraisal. Overall, job descriptions should keep pace with the changing landscape of your work.  How might you select an appropriate candidate for a role if the job description is an inaccurate representation of the work at hand?

Time for a review? Consider the following questions:

  • Have the number of employees in your organization increased dramatically over the past year?
  • Are you offering a new product or type of service?
  • Has the size of your customer base changed?
  • Does your organization have a new reporting obligation to a parent company?

A “yes” to any of these questions, could signal that the collective group of tasks in your organization has changed — and it is time for a review of your job descriptions, as well. Gather current descriptions and carefully consider them. Is there a current (and complete) job description for all roles? Are all task areas represented? Are the responsibilities listed, accurate? Be sure these questions are answered and revise your descriptions accordingly.

Growth and change can be frustrating at times. However, if descriptions keep pace, you can be assured a smoother journey. Sorting out “who does what”, and observing those tasks that naturally flow together to make up a role, may require some time. However, this exercise will greatly enhance how the work gets done.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and business coach, located in East Lansing, Michigan. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

3 thoughts on “The Care and Feeding of Job Descriptions

  1. Thank you so much for including the post in your Monster 5 for Friday – I hope the post helps guide small businesses to utilize job descriptions to target the right people for critical jobs within their organizations.


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