The Traditional Job Description, a poor solution for the 21st Century for a more Entrepreneurial Business Culture

March 3, 2014

We posted a few months ago about how candidates shouldn’t use job descriptions to talk themselves out of a job. We’ve also posted about how companies should be flexible when considering candidates in comparison to job descriptions. Let’s face it, job descriptions will always be the lynch pin of candidate searching and it’s never likely to change.  Companies and candidates need to be able to articulate expectations and job requirements in a written, systematized and what is perceived as a coherent format.  There needs to be a shared understanding of key performance indicators. But maybe it’s REALLY time to update the old format of job descriptions from the rigid standards of “job requirements” and “required experience” that don’t account for workers’ abilities to grow into roles and work cross-functionally. It’s also time to highlight the true importance of soft skills and culture fits that get left in the dust.

Recently we read an article that attempts to do just that. It’s another strong breakdown of how Job Descriptions need to evolve towards today’s more entrepreneurial business culture. What a change and it’s about time.

The article was written by Creel Price, an American entrepreneur, for LinkedIn’s influencers channel – a new content delivery system that’s becoming more and more popular on that social network. In the article, Price outlines the negative impact that overly rigid job descriptions can have on organizations in a larger sense – not just from a hiring standpoint.

He identifies six ways in which rigid job descriptions completely stifle innovation – and employee motivation. This is what they are:

  1. They make employee progression and promotions too linear. Great employees are forced to wait until their bosses leave/get promoted before they can assume more responsibility. This makes highly motivated and ambitious employees feel like they’re stagnating.
  2. Performance Appraisal based on how close an employee adheres to a job description is too top-down.  When the expectations aren’t strictly quantifiable, this top-down approach can lead to disputes and low morale.
  3. With traditional job descriptions, it’s hard for managers to take away responsibilities on an ad-hoc basis if an employee isn’t performing. Instead, they have to drop them down a whole level of job stature, which might be too harsh and demoralizing for the employee.
  4.  Price identifies inertia as a major factor. In his words, “traditional JD’s cause inertia because once employees are given specific responsibilities they expect them to be set in stone.” This makes the organization too rigid overall. You can’t shuffle responsibilities easily to meet the strategic needs of a business.
  5. Traditional job descriptions make employees play it safe, be defensive and risk-averse (which is exactly what you don’t want from employees – getting them to spread they wings and think out of the box becomes almost an impossibility). They encourage employees to do the baseline of what is expected of them instead of acting like “a business owner in the interests of the organization” and pushing to expand their responsibilities.  
  6. Employees are way too ‘siloed’ working under traditional job descriptions and often aren’t encouraged to work together with teammates to create stronger ideas and solutions. (For a great description of how an entrepreneurial, customer-service focused mindset can encourage collaboration and positive change within an organization, check out this article by Jack Miles, former CPO of CIBC and one of the top Procurement professionals in North America.)

While many managers do in practice try to ensure that none of these issues set into an organization, these efforts are at odds with the rigid format devised through the HR organisation (with good intentions, mind you!) to help fill roles and find talent. So Price identifies an alternative model of writing job descriptions that are more interesting, inspirational and more flexible. He defines two types of “Ownership Responsibilities” that business leaders should give to employees:

  • “Prototypes are the elements that make up someone’s responsibilities that are ongoing in nature e.g. Accounts Payable or Online Security.
  • Projects are responsibilities that have a defined end date e.g. Accounting Software Implementation or New Product Launch Event.”While the term “prototypes” could use some work, it’s definitely interesting. The idea is that structuring employees’ job descriptions this way makes the roles more modular. Organizations can add or remove responsibilities on a month-to-month basis to respond to the shifting needs of the business. The goal is to use responsibilities to give individuals more of an ownership in their share of the business. It’s more project-based than the traditional job description. When time-based projects are completed, they’re removed from the individual’s list so that they can move on to new projects, in essence attempting to proactively reward employees for completing responsibilities instead of encouraging them to hold onto them like personal fiefdoms.  That’s such a positive concept.The article goes on to break down, issue by issue, how this model offers solutions to the problems created by the traditional job description. Rather than attempting to further paraphrase Price’s insights, we encourage you to go and check it out.  In short, everyone knows that most job descriptions are a somewhat flawed relic of an older style of business culture. We applaud the attempt to update them for the 21st century and as Supply Chain Recruiters we at Argentus have been encouraging both our candidates and customers to move away from highly structured dependence on JD’s for some time now – why, because they just don’t give the true essence of the role needing to be filled….

    Price’s comments are obviously geared towards tech and startups that have a highly-ingrained entrepreneurial mindset. But do you think they’re applicable to large, established organizations? Could his model work for Supply Chain? Yes, most definitely. We see it time and time again.

    Over and Out for now

    Bronwen

    Connect with me on LinkedIn, email me at bhann@argentus.com or call me at 416-364-9919

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