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July 15, 2019 //

Job Descriptions Limit Everyone

Traditional Job Descriptions are written statements that list (generally in great detail) the duties, responsibilities, required qualifications and reporting relationships of a particular job.

But here’s the problem, it’s the level of detail contained in most job descriptions that naturally limits creativity and ingenuity.

Let’s face it, the more detailed a job description, the more the corresponding employee expects it to include EVERY job task/responsibility associated with the position.  This can not only limit that employee’s ability/willingness to go “beyond” those Job Description “bullets” to support the unique needs of their customers but may also inhibit his/her inclination to go beyond them in order to support his/her colleagues.

In this way, Job Descriptions do little to empower employees or keep them engaged in (what could otherwise be) much more purpose-driven positions. 

Conversely, True Agile LeadersTM know that employees are much more motivated/inspired in the long-term by the WHYs of their jobs, than they are by the WHATs. 

As such, True Agile LeadersTM believe that a better approach to a “Job Descriptionmay be a “Job Purpose, which identifies the ultimate goal of the position AND (equally as important) reflects the core values of the organization. This Job Purpose can be blissfully short, as well as broad enough to facilitate employee diversity and independent thinking.  For example, an auto mechanic’s Job Purpose could be something to the effect of: “Diagnose and repair automobiles with the utmost integrity, in the safest and most cost-effective ways possible, and support others in the shop to do the same”.

Additionally, consider the immense advantages of this approach as part of the posting and interview process, wherein the Job Purpose allows for a much more probative interview.  So, instead of simply going through a laundry list of job responsibilities and asking if the candidate “can perform those duties” (to which the answer is an inevitable “yes”), the hiring manager can instead state the Job Purpose and leave it to the candidate to explain HOW he/she would meet that Job Purpose.  For example, the hiring manager could tell the applicant that his/her Job Purpose is to “make naturally sweet cherry pies”, and then (rather than listing out every ingredient the applicant would be expected to use) asks what recipes he/she recommends…and why.  Now that’s an interview where you could really learn something about the candidate, and the way he/she thinks.  What better way to see if he/she would fit into the company culture?  So, if (in that example), he/she recommended putting Acesulfame potassium and Dijon mustard into the pies…you’d know to move onto the next candidate.

And while we’re on the subject of more innovative interviewing/hiring strategies, take a listen to another podcast (episode #8) in our “Traditional Manager Mistakes” series, called You’re Missing Great Hires by Focusing on Weaknesses.

Finally, for a comedic illustration of what can happen when you rely on Job Descriptions, take a listen to another podcast in our “Traditional Manager Mistakes” Series, called Job Descriptions Limit Everyone (episode #12, to be released July 31, 2019).

So here’s my challenge question for you.  Would you advocate for doing away with Job Descriptions in your organization? How well have they served you in the past?  Have you ever considered that they limit your team members’ (or your organization’s) potential?

Give that some thought – and leave your replies below.  We always love to hear from you!


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