Job Descriptions versus Job Responsibility Profiles:
Do you want minimum acceptable or exceptional performance?

Recently I asked a small business owner to provide the current job descriptions for a key office person.

This is the list provided by the employee: “ answer phones, open mail, dictation, schedule appointments, take out trash, add postage to meter, take deposit to bank, enter payroll, filing.”

How often do your employees have to “fill in the blanks” to determine the what, when, why and how to do their jobs? Why do we make them guess if they are doing their job “right”?Unfortunately, this example is not a rare occurrence—many businesses do not have written job descriptions that include even the basic job requirements. When I interviewed the employee her position required a much higher level of skill and experience than that list of duties imply. She also was able to explain more about the “why and how” about her position’s purpose and process to accomplish it. She knew what her job entailed and how it should be performed, and despite specific expectations from her manager, she even had weekly goals that she achieved. (For example, she expected to respond to inquiries within one day and type up all dictated documents by the end of the week.)

If you want employees to do their absolute best, they need clear expectations including performance standards. One critical document can provide this information, for your use in managing performance and to select effective new hires. We call this document the Job Responsibility Profile. This is far more than just a job description (a brief statement of 8 general duties).

A job description might be the same for a customer service representative at 100 companies: respond to customer inquiries, provide information on product, and take orders.

A Job Responsibility defines the specific knowledge, skills, abilities and personality traits of an ideal employee and then provides performance metrics to define performance requirements More hints.

Job Responsibility should include information for a manager to:

  • Clearly explain performance requirements
  • Compare employee’s performance to expectations
  • Evaluate position’s compensation compared to market
  • Verify legal compliance (American’s with Disability Act (ADA), overtime eligibility, etc)
  • Suggest job restructuring or job enrichment for an individual employee
  • Identify characteristics of ideal candidate to assist in recruiting and selecting new employees

Once you have documented the Job Responsibility Profile (JRP), do not just “file” this away. To be effective, this document becomes the basic work plan for an employee and used as part of your performance management process. An employee’s work should be continually compared to the outline and metrics contained in the JRP. Any deviation from the “standard” becomes an opportunity for feedback (positive or negative).

If the metrics for an associate attorney is to bring in one new major client per quarter and have 90 billable hours per month, every associate attorney should know this and also receive data on their performance compared to these metrics. When an employee exceeds expectations, this should be at least recognized, and ideally, continued exceptional performance rewarded in a Total Rewards package. Even top performers may lose motivation to continue their great work if it does not “seem” appreciated.

When recruiting for a new employee, the JRP provides the description of the position and ideal candidate. Then applicants are screened against the JRP. For example, does this receptionist applicant have knowledge and skill that would prepare her for this job (answer 100 calls a day, type up 20 letters and mail 25 marketing packets)? Does the applicant have the personality to be friendly and maintain her composure with 3 phones ringing at once? Once a candidate is selected, the JCP becomes the outline of duties to train a new employee. (For best results, also develop more detailed standard operating procedures and training checklists and manuals to augment the JCP outline).For employees who are not meeting expectations, supervisors should counsel employees to determine the cause and together develop solutions. Remember that performance gaps can be a function of motivation, ability or external obstacles. Some employees need either praise or corrective action to meet expectations—if they receive neither then performance often slips. Many times employees do not perform because they do not currently have the ability; they might need training, guidance, or a simple process to follow. Some might not have the core competency or personality to truly excel at one or more job functions (such as asking a high structure person to react and juggle 3 phone calls). Lastly, there are often obstacles to performance such as limited resources, urgent items, or dependency on others work that can prevent achievement of goals. An employee’s performance improvement plan needs to address the root cause to be most effective.

In summary, the Job Responsibility Profile (JRP) is a roadmap for each employee to understand expectations, benchmark their performance, and a tool for managers to improve poor performance and recognize and motivate exceptional work.