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5 lame excuses in HR for bad job descriptions

I’ve been in UK for two years now and frankly, I find the HR documentation here well. . . what euphemism shall I use  .  . . undeveloped.

From time to time, I’ve been sufficiently unwise to comment – and these are the excuses I get, sometimes concurrently, a dazzling tightrope of logic.

Excuse 1 : We are too chaotic

Turnover is so high that we cannot keep up with the documentation.  So we issue poor documentation or none at all.

Excuse 2: We are learning

Nobody knows what will be done in the job.

Excuse 3 : Not made here

This is the system we have worked out.  That must count for something.

Excuse 4 : We can fudge it

Well, we will put in a clause “And any other task required by the Head of Department”.  90% of work comes under that clause.

Excuse 5 : If we are sufficiently muddled, we can shift the blame

I know I didn’t mention it but it is on page 56 or in the middle paragraph of an email addressed to someone else and copied to you.

Beginner’s dilemma

I remember years ago, one of my former students asked to see me at my house on a Saturday morning.  He had been given a rough talking to be a line manager at work and he didn’t really understand what he was doing wrong.  “I just took him some forms to fill in,” he said,”and the guy laid in to me”.

My reply was to ask whether he was a high-paid messenger boy.  Did the organization need a graduate to move forms from one point in the organization to another?

What the organization needed was an intelligent, thoughtful, informed person to ask the line manager questions in the line manager’s language, translate into HR-speak, fill in the form and return it to the line manager for signing.

And the line manager should look at it and look up with a shine in his eyes, and say: “Oh, that’s what this is for!”

The line manager should feel that scales have fallen from their eyes. They should see the work they do as clearly as if someone wiped the mist off the mirror and they saw themselves for the first time.

Example of good work

This morning I stumbled over this excellent example of a job description, and given the quality of job descriptions that I am seeing daily, I thought it would be good to flag it up and link to it.

Job description of a website owner

It says clearly

  • what the person’s day looks like
  • what the job holder does
  • the decisions they make

It says clearly how each task contributes to

  • Work for the day
  • Long term planning

Get the organization organized

And now you might say, I would like to but this place is just not that organized –  the work changes from day-to-day.

Then that is your first job. To get it organized.

Actually, the organization is probably more organized than you think.  Wipe the mist from the mirror and let them see themselves.

Just write down what they do all day and sort it out.  It may take you a few hours but everything else in HR flows from there.

When the job description is clear, it is easy to

  • communicate with job applicants
  • select people who can and want to do the work (without discriminating)
  • pay equitably
  • train & develop
  • coach & manage performance.

In short, you cannot do your job until you have worked out what people do on the job.

And writing it down allows us to check that we have a common understanding.

That is our job.  To be the mirror of the organization so that we develop a common understanding and confidence in each other.

Collective efficacy, believing that the next person is competent, adds 10% to the value of an organization – and a 10% that cannot be copied by your competitor.  No money in the world can buy collective efficacy.  It comes from the continual work of developing  confidence in each other.

And we cannot be confident of each other when we each have a different idea about what we are supposed to be doing.

It’s as simple as that.

How did the story end?

Well, my former student’s eyes lit up as the penny dropped.  He went back to work and started delivering value to his line managers.

The firm did fold eventually (but not because of him).  Indeed, they kept him on to manage the redundancies.   When he was done, he joined Ernst & Young as a Consultant.  Then he moved to a bank and after that he started his own firm of consultants.

I hope you enjoy the job description. It is a fine example of good work.

PS I’ll tell you where the 10% comes from if you want.

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