Editor's Blog

Why Bulleted Job Descriptions Don't Work

July 11, 2010
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Whenever I take on a new one-to-one consulting client, I ask them to send me a series of forms, templates and documents to review before I arrive onsite. .  

I do it for many reasons.  

The most important reason is to see where they’re weak or strong in the multiple areas it takes to run a successful business no matter what their business does.  

It also gives me a head start on understanding the way their company functions and doesn’t function based on what systems they have documented and by what’s missing.  

I also do it to see where they’re going over the top in templates, forms and duplication in a mindless pursuit of perfection, or in a hope that if they create enough forms their misbehaving staff will finally get things done right. The frustration comes through in the writing. The text is full of “shall,” “won’t,” “must,” “can’t” and more one-way yelling in color, bold and in italics.  

Oh, if writing it made it so…won’t life as a boss be lovely?  

The biggest problem is actually when there are job descriptions for the staff positions. This leaves them in the position of having to be a mind reader to know what you, the boss, really want them to do.  

The next biggest problem is the overuse of subjective language like “friendly,” “considerate,” “warm,” “punctual” vs. using objective language like “meetings start at 7:59 AM unless you get written notice to the contrary,” “shirts are buttoned except the top one and tucked in your uniform pants.”  

You’re either on time or you’re not, and the shirt is buttoned and tucked or it’s not!  

The last of the series of problems with job descriptions is when they are a bulleted list. And that’s presuming they’ve actually been put into objective language that makes behaviors measurable. The reason is if you, the boss, give me, your employee, one more bullet [task or thing to do] than I signed on for when I joined the company I feel you’re taking advantage of me. Or, I feel I should get some help. Or, I feel I should get paid more.   

Funny, they never complain when you take away a bullet…do they?

How do you avoid this dilemma?

Create an Operations Manual for each box on your Organizational Chart. This defines the activities that must go on about 80% of the time in the box they occupy. You’ll never cover 100% so let it go. Even if you could the book would be so big no one could use it and you’d still find the exception to the rule. Handle the 80% well and the 20% is easy.  

The clients who work with me who have created these detailed Operations Manuals are trained to say the following when training a new or existing employee:  
    “This is the chapter of the Operations Manual that covers about 80% of what goes on in your box on the Organizational Chart. The nature of our work is it’s always changing to better serve the customer, the company and you. Therefore, your position is always evolving. So when it does, your Operations Manual will change because it’s a living breathing document and so that is always your job description and how you’ll be held accountable and recognized for good and poor behavior.”
Commit to creating the manuals that give you this type of flexibility and consistency and let the bullets fly!


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