March 2019 – The importance of a Job Description

One of the common questions we ask when taking on a new role is whether or not a job description exists for the position. We would estimate that somewhere around 80% to 90% of dealerships DO NOT have up to date job descriptions (JD’s) in place. In some ways, I can understand why so many dealerships have very little in writing when it comes to items like these. Afterall, a Service Manager at a Ford dealership has the same role as a Service Manager at a Holden dealership, right? Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Someone who works the drive-through at McDonalds performs the same role as someone who works at Hungry Jacks, don’t they? Well, again, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. But one thing is for sure, you can bet that both McDonalds and Hungry Jacks have formulated very detailed JD’s, outlining exactly what the job is, what needs to be attended to in the position, when it needs to be done, who the position reports to and what the outcomes of the position are.

The purpose of a JD is to remove ambiguity. This is what the role is, here is a list of the primary duties of the position, the major responsibilities, the physical demands of the position and what is expected of the position. It allows someone moving into the role the benefit of knowing the aspects of the role which make up 90%-95% of their expected workload. The ideal JD will be specific to the individual role, rather than generic, detailed yet not overly complex and most importantly, it will be realistic. One of, if not the major challenge facing organisations today is the ability to find and retain talented staff. An incorrectly developed JD, could lead to the organisation looking for a candidate who does not exist, all the while missing out on applicants who could perform the role well, but who do not meet the JD requirements, at least how the presently stand.

In order to develop an accurate and realistic JD, a position analysis needs to take place. Things to consider at this point are:

  • What is the purpose of the position? A position exists to perform an essential function and the person hired to fill the position is hired for their ability to perform it.
  • What would happen if this position were not filled? Is it possible to transfer essential functions of the position to other positions?
  • What larger developments within the organisation or within the position’s specialised area play a role in determining different ways of thinking about the position? A good example here is considering the developments in technology that have changed the way many positions undertake their tasks or automate some of the primary duties of the role.
  • What can be learnt from the last five years experience with this position? Has it been marked by high turnover or has it been a continuous trouble area? What accounts for the present vacancy?
  • What does any of this information tell us about the position? Does the position need to be redefined, merged with another or perhaps eliminated altogether?

When analysing a position, it is best if three levels of people are potentially involved. If you have a HR department, have them work with the incumbent on mapping out the role. Then refer to the person to whom the position reports and get their view. Finally, consider talking to someone that reports to the position, they may have valuable input also, particularly if aspects of their role report to a few different people, creating unnecessary cross-over.

After the job analysis has been conducted, the next step is to begin writing the position description. From the job analysis, you should have an understanding of what the primary purpose of the position is. This is the position summary. Write the summary to explain what you need to be accomplished by this employee and how it relates to the goals of the business. Most JD’s will have a summary page, which outlines the major, structural components of the role, such as the location of the position, who it reports to, the hours of work, the remuneration/benefits allocated to the position and the title of the role.

Next comes the duties of the position. Write position duties so that they are clearly understandable by anyone who should happen to read the position description. The duties should be succinct. From your position analysis, begin grouping the position duties by similarity and importance. Typically, you will have no more than eight to ten groupings of position duties. Each group should have a common heading. Do not list unnecessary details, only the important facts regarding the position. Avoid ambiguous terms and begin each statement with an action verb. Avoid jargon that may not be easily understood.

Autonomy. This section, along with the position summary, defines the scope and responsibility of the position. List what decisions the incumbent will be expected to make independently and which decisions they will make under the guidance of their supervisor.

You may also wish to include in the JD, the characteristics required personally to satisfy the JD. In some instances, this should be a separate document, called a Person Specification (PS), which itself will identify the level of qualifications, skills, experience and knowledge that are required to perform the role. Think of the JD as a square hole, and the PS as a block. On one hand, you define the role, and on the other, you define the person required to perform the role.

Occupational health and safety is a big-ticket item of the industrial agenda today and affects your business in many areas. The majority of job descriptions do not contain reference to the employer and employee working within the framework of health and safety. By including this requirement in your job description, and having mandatory induction and training you are able to demonstrate your business’s commitment to health and safety.

Finally, we recommend in every instance that a job description have an employee and employer sign off section.

A correctly developed Job Description has many different benefits. You are able to make sure that the duties of the role, match the purpose of the position. You have a foundation document to refer to when it comes to performance management and if need be, remedial training or termination. And it draws to the candidates attention the things that are important to you and the organisation, which may not have featured prominently in previous roles they have held, or companies they have worked with.

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