Pros of having a job description
Most companies beyond a certain size of 150 have job titles and job descriptions. For recruitment/ selection professionals, job description is essential, because it helps refine the thinking process of the type of attributes/skills and knowledge an organisation wants to bring in for the job. It also helps in performance appraisal, as otherwise the individual may be unfairly appraised for doing a job s/he lacks the skill set. Not to mention extremely demotivating as well.
In a rigid structure, such as manufacturing with clear tasks and responsibilities and repetitive tasks, i.e. in finding replaceable clogs to make the assembly line efficient and breaking down tasks into simple functions, an organisation where everyone does only his or her job is necessary.
Tomorrow I’m conducting a workshop on cover letter and resume writing, and the first question every student ask, is what skills should I put in the resume. My first response is, have you read the job description/ advertisement for the position.
Once you enter an organisation though, the use of a job description is both necessary but limiting.
Even in traditional manufacturing jobs like the automotive, Chairman Bill Ford recognised that Ford had become a place where they wait for the leader to tell them what to do.
Limitations of job description
In a knowledge economy, where the environment is dynamic and unpredictable because a disrupting technology is just around the corner, using position descriptions to define jobs is limiting, and is as a disincentive for performance. Job roles should be more fluid.
While it is important to have clear job responsibilities, defined job responsibilities and tasks can have a negative effect on performance and flexibility. With positions undertaken by highly skilled employees who have the ability to be flexible it can restrict performance and collaboration. Add to that, power base, territory and turf defending and we are on to a calcified culture and fractious divisions. Overtime, it breeds a culture hostile to new ideas.
Today’s organisations need entrepreneurs like Marissa Mayer during her time at Google. (She’s currently CEO of Yahoo.) Marissa applies artistic judgment, making the interfaces work between the engineers and what the public wants. A story was told of how she would fight to keep the Google start page as spare as it is, to the extent that she counts the number of words on the page. She didn’t get assigned to that role, she just did that. Seth Godin described her as “solving problems that people haven’t predicted, see things people havent seen”. Not in her job description, most probably because she didn’t have one. Not everyone enjoys working in an unstructured environment like Google either.
Peter Drucker instead adivised on Management by Objectives as a performance metric. That too, has its downside. In the case of Ford, Alan Mulally, an ousider from the aerospace industry. What he did to transform the culture at Ford is very interesting, what I would call a Hero’s adventure in the likes of Joseph Campbell. But that’s for another post.
2. “Linchpin” by Seth Godin