Leadership for Life – Job Descriptions

By on April 15, 2015
Leadership for Life - Job Descriptions

Organizations spend lots of money doing job analyses, developing job descriptions, and defining pay grades. I have friends who make a living doing that sort of thing, so I have no intention of putting that kind of activity down. On the other hand, great leaders know that job descriptions, while necessary in many cases, are (should be) fluid. If they get too rigid, they stop working. This is especially true in small organizations, where people often have to take on responsibilities that are not specifically written into their job descriptions.

We know from sometimes bitter experience that when people follow their job descriptions exactly as written, organizations can actually suffer. Most people do far more than they are required to do, and that makes organizations hum along successfully. What people actually do to go beyond their job descriptions depends on their individual talents and inclinations. In some cases, organizations cover themselves by adding that open-ended phrase, “and other duties as assigned.”

The fact is that when someone takes a job, s/he begins “rewriting” the job description from day 1. By applying good judgment and idiosyncratic skills and knowledge, each individual personalizes the job description to the extent that after some period of time (a few months to a couple of years, perhaps), the formal job description often has no connection with what the employee actually does on a day to day basis. And that’s a good thing!

If you’re feeling a disturbance in the Force, it’s because of those rigid HR people who demand that job descriptions be sacrosanct. That may be more likely in large organizations, where specialization of function is de rigeur. In smaller organizations, when there are fewer heads to go around, people are freer to add and subtract functions to their jobs, make changes on the run, and generally allow their creativity to blossom. It’s the reason why startups often shine brightly and lose their glow as they mature into larger, more rigidly governed organizations.

Great leaders encourage people to adjust their job descriptions to fit their personalities and skills, not the other way around. As Bob Nelson, the guru of motivation and employee engagement, has said, “Most people have capabilities beyond those they are called on to demonstrate in their jobs. Inspire them to use those capabilities by encouraging and thanking them whenever they do so.”

If your organization would like to learn more about how to lead in a way that encourages innovation, feel free to call me at 314-539-5329, and we can talk.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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