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What’s the point of Job Descriptions? Quite a lot as it happens.

If, like us, you run a small business you might think that JDs should all state ‘to do whatever is necessary, whenever it’s necessary’ and to a large extent that should indeed be the case.  30 years ago when I started my HR career Personnel Departments (as they were then) would insist that every job had a full job and person description and every job holder received a full annual appraisal. Homeworking was unheard of and getting to work on time was an expectation not an aspiration. Much has changed and these days most don’t believe in appraisals and the majority of our new clients have never written a JD.

Which is a pity because a decent job description is a very useful thing for any business owner or manager.  Left to their own devices tasks and responsibilities evolve to belong to particular employees and instead of a team with clear responsibilities we end up with a team that has designed itself and that’s not always a good thing. Last week for example I was in a garden centre, there were a number of green shirted staff in clear view performing various tasks stocking shelves and wheeling empty trollies about, but only one person on the till, and the queue was long. I asked them if they would open some other tills and after the tannoy announcement most of the green shirted staff vanished and none came to her aid. The girl on the only working till explained that most weren’t trained or simply didn’t like the customer facing bit. Apparently neither did the manager who was nowhere to be seen.

A JD is an opportunity to spec out what the expectations of a role are.  That doesn’t mean that the phrase ‘or do whatever else is reasonably required’ should be left out, but the JD should set out core expectations, for the garden centre a list of basic responsibilities should include serving customers at the till.  From the JD we can produce a training and induction plan – to ensure each person has the necessary training to perform the tasks required of them. It also ensures that the team understand what is expected of them from the outset….when you’ve been operating a business for 20 years it’s easy to assume that everyone knows what they need to do from day 1, but they don’t unless you tell them or give them a JD. Another important function of a decent JD is that it provides the basis to assess the effectiveness of your staff, allowing an objective view of whether they’re doing all of the elements of a role and how well they perform each element, and where extra effort may need to be applied.

So a well written JD is the basis of a structured induction, an appraisal and clarifies the expectations of each team member.  Providing its accurate the JD can also form the basis of the recruitment adverts and a skills based interview format. Taking ‘serving customers’ as an example we can see that this will usually require a degree of social confidence…and the candidate who can’t make eye contact or string a sentence together is unlikely to be suitable. With all these useful functions, it’s a pity so many regard the JD as a thing of the past. 

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