Job Descriptions – Why Bother?

By Candace Fisher, SPHR, Director, Organizational Development/Certified Coach
Published November 14, 2017

Keeping job descriptions up-to-date isn’t the easiest task. Managers see it as an HR responsibility, but HR can’t update the information without input from the managers. What’s the best practice? Ideally, both HR and managers should collaborate to ensure that job descriptions are up-to-date. 

Typically, the format or template is determined by HR. The content that goes into that template should initially be completed by the corresponding department. They know their own jobs better than HR does. The final editing, tweaking, etc. should then be done by HR to ensure consistency.
This sounds like a monumental task and, if you don’t have job descriptions or they are sadly out-of-date, the first “go-around” might be labor intensive.  Once they’re in place, however, keeping them current is a relatively straightforward process. There are two opportunities when it makes sense to ask managers to review the descriptions: 1) when recruiting for an open position – in order to make sure that HR is helping to find the right candidate; and 2) at the annual performance review time – when managers are reviewing an employee’s performance and setting expectations for the future. This is another ideal opportunity to ensure that the employee’s performance and duties are in line with the current description.  

Job DescriptionsThat’s the “when” of updating the process. These updates should be initiated or requested by HR, and they should be completed by the manager. That’s the “how.” 

Now, let’s talk about the “why.” If you’re having trouble getting the cooperation of managers, maybe it’s because they don’t understand the importance of these documents. Throughout the life-cycle of an employee, there are numerous times when it is imperative to have an updated job description on file.

  • Recruiting and Selection. In order to find the most qualified candidates for open positions, it’s critical to look for the right people. Conveying the appropriate job content to candidates helps them to know what will be expected of them before they consider taking the position.
  • Compensation Administration. An updated job description is necessary to benchmark the position to determine the appropriate compensation.  Job titles are used very differently by different organizations, so updated descriptions help identify comparable jobs.  
  • Establishing Performance Standards/Performance Appraisals. As mentioned above, performance expectations are set and employees are evaluated on specific job criteria. Having an updated job description helps ensure that those expectations and evaluations are consistent among employees in that same job. 
  • Career Paths/Succession Planning. If employees are trying to plot out their careers, reviewing the job description for potential future jobs can help them determine what knowledge, skills and abilities (or KSAs) they’ll need to work on and develop to get there. As organizations are trying to anticipate and plan for future openings, the information in the job description will help determine those same KSAs necessary to develop employees for the position.
  • Training and Development. Comparing performance evaluations and recruiting efforts with job descriptions might give clues to performance gaps and training needs of employees.  
  • Legal Compliance (for example, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act). If an employee requests an accommodation due to a medical disability, the employee’s medical provider should know exactly what the employee’s responsibilities are so the provider can accurately determine what accommodations the employee will require. A current job description that clearly outlines the job duties and requirements is critical to that process.

If you, or managers within your organization, would like more information about this topic or would like to walk through the process of writing job descriptions in more detail, plan to attend the upcoming session of Job Descriptions: Why, What and How? at the Management Association on December 12th. For more information on this, or any of our sessions, visit our Training Calendar, or call 800-448-4584.  


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