Writing a job description is not a task most leaders eagerly anticipate. It can be tedious and time-consuming, with leaders wondering how much detail is enough. Do I list every task this employee will perform? What do they need to know about their colleagues? Should I cover the evaluation process?
Today’s complex workplace requires leaders to go beyond the standard job description and provide complete role clarity for every employee. The more precise this step of the hiring process becomes, the better the chance candidates have the clear expectations they need to meaningfully contribute to team goals. Employees must know what they will do, how they’ll be doing it, how their performance is measured, and who will be measuring that performance.
What is the employee’s role?
All job descriptions include a job title, but this only scratches the surface of providing role clarity. To align their efforts with the organizational goals, every employee should know how their role contributes to the mission of the organization. As leading human resources services firm Insperity notes, “Most employees want more out of their job than just a completed task list. They want to connect to a broader company mission and play a part in that success.” Establishing the tie between the employee’s role and the organization’s mission begins by sharing that tie in the job description.
For employees who work within an intact team, connecting their work to the team’s purpose is also essential for role clarity. With a team’s purpose being the reason it exists, an employee’s specific role on the team is the reason their unique job exists. Engagement begins with connection, and leaders miss the opportunity to jumpstart employee engagement if they do not connect the employee’s role to the team’s purpose.
When team members are uncertain or have role ambiguity, it’s up to the leader to provide insight and clarify their roles and responsibilities. It’s also critical for you to promote transparency within the team; that way, if there is uncertainty, they can ask questions and are less likely to hesitate when they need clarification.
As part of an interconnected web of team members, employees should also know how their role compares with the roles of others to bring the team’s purpose to life. This clarification reduces role ambiguity and helps employees direct their efforts appropriately.
What are their responsibilities?
After establishing role clarity in the job description, outline the key responsibilities of the position. What tasks need to be performed for them to fulfill role requirements and meet their goals? If the role is what their job entails, the responsibilities are how they get that job done with excellence.
By detailing the responsibilities of a role, effective job descriptions provide the blueprint that propels employee success. The clarity that comes from a comprehensive list of the specific tasks, duties, and functions the employee will be accountable for helps employees best bring the team's purpose to life. When the stress of competing priorities arises, clear job responsibilities also guide employees about tasks they are not responsible for, allowing them to focus on the work they are accountable for.
Employees can only meet their responsibilities with the proper resources, as these provide an additional layer of clarity regarding how they will complete tasks. If an employee has to use a particular software, reporting systems, or established processes, include this information in the job description to set guardrails around the accomplishment of key responsibilities.
How is success measured?
Though hiring managers may cover the official path for professional development during the interview process, formal requirements for success within the role are often left out of the job description.
Transparency in this area can help align job responsibilities with the expectations for the role, keeping the interview candidates and the organization on the same page from the beginning of the employment relationship. In studying the job descriptions for almost 200 executives, HBR found that one in three job specs had misaligned expectations and responsibilities, “often indicating that the authority given the role was less than the impact the individual was expected to have.” This may result in the employee falling short of expectations through no fault of their own.
With a clear understanding of measurable outcomes they should achieve, such as a 5% increase in revenue or a 3% increase in efficiency, organizations equip candidates to determine if these are reasonable given their outlined responsibilities and the resources available.
Integrating the performance management process into job descriptions, whether that process entails formal annual reviews or informal but frequent coaching conversations, also provides clear expectations for job seekers on when and how assessments occur.
What is the accountability structure?
It is always helpful for job candidates to know the position of the person to whom they will report, as this provides immediate confirmation of formal accountability. But knowing how their team requests approvals and communicates task completion adds an additional layer of accountability that the candidate should be aware of upfront.
Which decisions do they need their leader’s approval for? Does it require written approval? When tasks are complete, is it marked in project management software, or will a verbal notification do? Informing candidates of the accountability structure during the interviewing and hiring phases minimizes confusion and sets candidates up for greater success when they begin work.
What if things change?
It's not a matter of if change will happen. It's a matter of when and how. Clarity is not created only once in the job description but is something the leader must continually create.
Organizational change can result in changes to a team's purpose, what role each person fills, and what responsibilities come with that role. Fostering a culture of psychological safety in which employees feel comfortable asking questions provides the foundation on which clarity thrives.
When clarity begins with the job description, employees get a head start on understanding how to perform their roles well. Do your potential employees want this kind of advantage? You bet they do. And will it make your job easier as well? Absolutely.
Ready to continuously create clarity for your team? Consider our High-Performing Teams program and equip yourself with the tools to be the leader your team needs.