By Claudine Kapel
When was the last time someone in your organization updated a job description? (Hint: Stephen Harper may not have been Prime Minister at the time.)
But despite the eye-rolling and grimaces that discussions about job descriptions may spur, there are some good reasons to be clear about who is accountable for what.
First, it helps to reframe or clarify the intent of such documentation. When people hear the term “job description” they often envision a seemingly endless list of tasks and duties. Task lists generally don’t have much utility – and worse, they can constrain how work gets done because employees may resist work assignments that aren’t on the list.
It may help to focus on defining higher-level role descriptions or role accountabilities. What are the objectives for the role? How does it contribute to the success of the business? What are its major accountabilities? What type of decision-making authority does it have? Where are the inter-dependencies with other roles?
If you utilize a job evaluation process, it is also helpful to ensure role documentation also captures the details required to evaluate the position.
While tackling job documentation may sometimes seem like a pointless task, here are three good reasons to take it on.
1) To ensure role clarity and clear lines of accountability. Ambiguity around who is responsible for what can lead to slow or sub-optimal decision-making, which can lead to wasted time and resources and slow response times. Conflict can also be more challenging to manage when it isn’t clear who has ultimate responsibility for specific decisions, budgets or work processes.
2) To support pay and titling decisions. To achieve internal equity, you need to be clear about what roles are doing comparable levels of work or have comparable levels of accountability. If you’ve ever had to navigate a debate about job titles, you know that it helps to be clear about accountabilities, both by role and by organizational level. This is one reason why a job evaluation process can be valuable, even if the organization doesn’t face pay equity requirements.
3) To clarify inter-dependencies across positions. Collaboration and decision-making is easier when employees are clear about who needs to be in the loop around what’s happening, who needs to be invited to provide input, and who is involved in making recommendations and approving decisions.
Although role clarity is pivotal for managing compensation effectively, it is also essential to make sound decisions with respect to organizational design.
That’s why some organizations even go beyond the development of job documentation and role profiles to create career level frameworks or other types of accountability matrices that describe accountabilities and key role requirements by organizational level. Such tools can provide a useful framework to support staffing, development and succession planning, as well as to support discussions around career paths.
Done well, role descriptions and related documentation can help ensure that, organizationally speaking, the whole does become more than the sum of its parts.
Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.