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.

Check my facts on Opportunity UK

Employment opportunities in the UK

Today, Twitterers are retweeting BBC’s report that TUC says 60 people are chasing every job in the south, and elsewhere in UK, each job is chased by 10 people.  Is this true?  And if it true, is it unusual?

I wonder if Andy at SironConsulting a leading recruitment agency would make a comment?

Talk facts not negative emotions

I’m a positive psychologist and I hail from Zimbabwe so I know a fair bit about living in an economic crisis.

  • Bad news outweighs good.  People reading the BBC report on their way to work today will need 3 times as much positive information of greater weight just to think straight!  They will need 5 times as much positive information to be creative and to find solutions to challenges of the day.  Be prepared for a rough day at work and stop to take a walk in the park, listen to the birds and admire the daffodils.  You may need it!
  • Even those of use who are good at maths find it difficult to keep track of numbers with lots of zero’s in them.  I don’t undertand why it is so difficult but generally we need to pull out pen and paper and lay out the arithmetic neatly.  Don’t assume journalists have done this.  They are as dazzled as the rest of us!
  • We need information to guide action not to encourage excitable chatter.  We need facts and figures presented, in context, in a way that supports the purpose of the reader.

I find it hard to find facts and figures about the British economy, so I am going to collect them here.  But do check my numbers.  I do know from living in Zimbabwe that we are prone to make errors when lots of zero’s are involved.  Maybe I’ll add an error from time to time to see if you are doublechecking!

And I am also going to relate the facts I find to the issue at the top of our minds: making a living joyfully in the UK!

Here are my two facts for today and my take on the BBC report.

1   We live and work in the 5th largest economy in the world

Wikipedia figures for GDP by country seem to be 2008 and are probably in USD.  In the last year, the pound has weakened and our economy will be smaller now nominal terms. We have also contracted about 1.5%.  A year ago, India was expected to overtake us in size and I imagine this has happened.

So we are probably not 5th any more.  Maybe we are tenth?  Who knows?

We are still massive by any account.

2   We have 4% of the world’s economy and 1% of the world’s population

We have a disproportionate share of the world’s production and services. Yes, we do.  We are well off.

The world’s GDP is around 50 trillion (million millions or 10^6 x 10^6).  Our GDP in the UK is between 2 to 3 trillion USD.  I’ve taken the lower figure to arrive at 4%.

The world has 6 to 7 billion people (thousand millions or 10^3 x 10^6).  In the UK, have 60 million people.  So 1% of the world live here.

We have 4 x our share of the world economy!

Of course, the USA, with GDP of 15 trillion has 30% of the world economy and a population of 300 million, 5% of the world’s population.  So they have 6x their share of the world’s economy and one-and-a-half times our already disproportionate share.  Pareto’s law in action.  A few people command a disproportion share of resources.

A share in the UK economy

Once, we have remembered that we are quite rich, then we can turn to the issue exercising the TUC – the ability of people to take part in the economy.

Our opinions on this matter provide the underlying tension in western politics and seem to go something like this.  Rich people think they should continue to be rich even if they have just lost billions through bad decisions.  People who seek to make a living through employment believe employment should always be available.

It seems a sterile debate to me.  Looking at the UK from the outside, people quarrelling in a rich economy look like governors of the workhouse in the film Oliver stuffing their faces while the boys ate gruel.

It is quite hard for someone who has lost their job, and who is shocked and frightened, to imagine they are in a psychological state similar to  someone who has lost millions or even billions.   Anyway they are in too much shock to care.

Negative emotions are overwhelming, and psychologsits are pretty confident we need 3-5 moderate positive emotions to outweigh 1 mild negative emotion.  A shock like redundancy needs heaps of positive, which is hard when you’ve just lost the social support system of work and you are short of money too.

But reality and commonsense must also kick in here.  Certainly, claim redundancy money, sign on, and do sensible things.  But consider your basic game plan too.

Why are you waiting for other people?

While you are doing sensible things, do start taking charge of your own life.  Aim to come out of this ‘recession’ not only with your house intact and some savings in the bank, but less, less, LESS, dependent on other people for opportunity.

Can you create opportunity and look for another jobs at the same time?

You must.  Otherwise you are in a bizarre position of feeling poor in a country where we control FOUR TIMES our share of the world’s economy.

There are many simple systems.  Here are 4 suggestions.

  1. Buy British corporate poet, David Whyte‘s CD, MidLife and the Great Unknown and listen to it while you commute, or as you take a walk in a park or field in the gentle spring sun.
  2. Buy What Color is Your Parachute? and do the exercises.
  3. Listen to Dr Srikumar Rao talking at Googletalk (50 min) and follow his advice.
  4. Do my “new person and new url per day” exercise.

Absolutely commit yourself to taking charge of your life and join in unashamed abandon a chase to catch up with the US!

We would like 6 times our share of the world’s economy too!

Not for the sake of gluttony but because it is fun to be innovative and productive and when we trade fairly, people in other countries benefit too.

I would love to hear how you take charge of your life.

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