In three decades of working with companies of all shapes and sizes, I’ve found a common tool can be used to hire, train and retain great employees. It’s a tool that exists in most workplaces, but it’s one of the most misused and underused tools I’ve ever seen. That tool is a job description.
Scoff if you want, but my clients who use this tool properly do a great job at hiring, training and retaining great employees.
In a nutshell, here’s how I recommend job descriptions be created and used:
- Identify and prioritize the duties and tasks needed for successful job performance.
- Use that job description to create interview questions.
- Once a person is hired, use the job description as an outline for training.
- Use the job description as a guide for ongoing performance management.
Let’s examine each step.
Create an accurate list of duties and tasks
To define the terms, a duty is a general area of responsibility, whereas a task is a specific action that, when combined with other tasks, fulfills a duty.
Here’s a duty/task example taken from a Safety Director’s job description:
- Oversee Emergency Response Teams
- Identify deficiencies in the emergency plan
- Develop emergency response skills in office personnel
- Create response teams and appoint leaders
- Educate all personnel on potential emergencies
- Schedule and conduct emergency response training
- Evaluate emergency team effectiveness
A general guideline is to have between 5 and 14 duties for a job. The same numbers apply to how many tasks each duty should have.
Develop behavior-based interview questions
In this next step, one reviews the duty and task list and identifies five or six questions to ask each candidate in a preliminary “phone screen” interview. The key here is to develop behavior-based questions, which are questions based on an applicant’s actual past experience (how did you handle “x”?), not on a hypothetical future possibility (how would you handle “x”?).
Over the years I’ve learned that if you ask hypothetical questions you tend to get hypothetical answers. During an initial phone screen, you want to learn what an applicant actually did.
Here’s an example of a behavior-based question for the Safety Director’s job: “Tell me about a time you scheduled and conducted training. What obstacles did you encounter? How did you overcome them?”
Because this article is about the overarching purpose of a job description, I won’t dive too deep on the interview process. However, be sure to ask the same questions of each applicant you interview and assign a score to each answer. Applicants with the highest scores move on to the next phase of your hiring process.
Use the job description as an outline for training
Once you’ve hired someone, a key to retaining that employee is having a clear method for training that person on the requirements of his or her job. People want to know what’s required of them to succeed! As you might have guessed, the duty and task portion of a well-written job description serves as your guide for this.
The following is an extremely brief overview for how each task from a duty and task list needs to be analyzed to create a plan for training:
- What must the employee physically do to accomplish the task?
- What must the employee know or understand to perform each behavior?
- What must the employee be concerned about (safety, quality, etc.) to perform each behavior?
As an example, let’s use the job description of a food service worker and analyze the task of “prepares menu items using established procedures.”
What must the worker do to prepare menu items?
- Read recipes
- Measure ingredients
- Operate kitchen equipment
- Follow recipes
What must the worker know and understand to do those things?
- Show where each day’s menu is kept
- Show where recipes are kept
- Locate where all food items are kept
- Show where the food is prepared
- Show where cooking supplies and cleaning supplies are kept
- State the operating procedures for each piece of equipment
What must the worker be concerned about while doing those things?
- State, explain and demonstrate proper food handling procedures
- State, explain and demonstrate spill clean up and safety procedures
- State, explain and demonstrate equipment and knife safety
Use the job description as a guide for ongoing performance management
I am not a fan of generic job evaluations. Every position is different, and people want to know if they’re performing at an acceptable level for what’s expected of them. If they aren’t clear on what’s expected of them, there’s no way for them to know if they’re doing well.
Research shows that only 7% of American workers understand how their work fits into the company’s vision and mission. That is not their fault. This is a problem because of managers either not telling them or not knowing themselves. Again, as you might guess, a well-written duty and task list fixes that.
My recommendation is to replace annual performance reviews with quarterly performance management reviews. After all, who’s going to remember what an employee did 10 months ago?
Using a simple check list, supervisors can grade each employee for each duty and task using the following scale:
- Needs improvement
- Meets expectations
- Exceeds expectations
- No longer applies
Ideally, each employee will self-evaluate his or her own performance before meeting with his or her supervisor, and any differences will serve as a springboard for discussion.
Evaluating employees according to their job description keeps everyone on the same page for what is expected. When employees know exactly what’s expected, performance improves, too!
Bottom line, there’s a great tool available for finding, training, and keeping good employees. All we have to do is use the tool to its fullest potential.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and has more than 30 years’ experience as a workplace issues consultant and a management/leadership coach. Reach Daniel on his office phone, 208-375-7606, or through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.