Sunday, January 23, 2005

Job descriptions 

Andre Cheong, regional director of PSD Group, an international executive search organisation, had this to say in an article for the Recruit section of The Straits Times yesterday.

Before I came to work in executive search, I did not believe in the use of job descriptions. I used to think that job descriptions were dangerous because of their tendency to limit an employee’s work, responsibility, and most important, his imagination...

All this changed when I once had to handle a large project... I asked [three executives] to write single-page descriptions of what they were going to do... There were, to say the least, a significant number of overlapping issues, contradictory viewpoints... I could not help thinking about the chaos that would have ensued had I not asked for the job descriptions.

After resisting them early in my career, I have changed my opinion about job descriptions. I now think they are a useful way to:

  • Identify the number and degree of responsibilities

  • Agree on the priorities

  • Discover and resolve areas of conflict

  • Correct dangerous misconceptions

  • Establish specific goals, and

  • Set timelines
  • Any organisation that has more than a few employees is probably better off with having job descriptions for them. By delineating responsibilities among employees, job descriptions enhance two things that are important in business: accountability and predictability.

    Bosses are often averse to job descriptions for their subordinates because they want the power to do what they deem fit. This is especially true for those “doer” types who are attracted to visions and don’t like constraints. For example, Cheong says he did not previously believe in the use of job descriptions because they limit an employee’s “imagination”; a person’s imagination is, of course, limitless.

    But smart bosses also know that subordinates who are not unwilling to step out of their job descriptions are usually rule-oriented individuals who would also not be happy to work without one.


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