How to write a job description

What do you think of when you hear the words job description? For me, it is a bureaucrat with a green visor parsing the work in front of him to decide whether it is in his job description or not.

That and the two consultants from “Office Space.”

So, general nonsense that stands in the way of getting work done.

Except that they aren’t.

Job descriptions matter, even if you are the person doing all the jobs because they help clarify two things:

Thing 1: what the role of the job is and what it takes to get this job done.

Thing 2: how this job interacts with other jobs.

If you don’t want to scale or grow, if you are happy doing all the work, you don’t need job descriptions; just do the work. But the second you want to involve more people, you have to explain to them what their responsibilities are and how they interact with others.

We recommend writing job descriptions very in growing a business, even if they are simple ones. So design your organization, even if you wear all of the hats, and put together a few bullet points describing each job.

Creating these descriptions will allow you to see the jobs as distinct rather than just a jumble of work. Then you can start adding more detail to the descriptions and start hiring people to take them over for you.

Or, if you already have a team without job descriptions, writing them will clarify responsibilities. Vagary kills productivity. Your employees won’t know what they need to do without a clear description. You will likely have clear expectations in your head. Still, if you don’t communicate these in writing, you risk them not understanding. If they don’t understand, they can’t deliver.

So, you must design your organization and write job descriptions if you want to grow your business.

Let’s get into it.

Step 1: Design Your Organization

If you haven’t thought through your organization design, start there. The design is the essential list of roles that comprise your business. You don’t have to stick to our template: make the organization work for you. The key is to define the roles you need to make your business work.Download the Workbook

Step 2: Write the Job (Position) Descriptions

We call job descriptions and position descriptions, so I’ll use the position description terminology for consistency.

Here is our position description template:

Organization Hat Design Workbook v2 0 29Dec21 JL

(By the way: I always feel like drawing boxes around things makes filling them in feel less daunting. But having a job description on a slide is not important: a document works just as well…)

Section one: Put the role in the organization and give it a name

Each position wears a hat, so identify the hat.

Multiple positions can wear one hat. For example, you might end up with many positions wearing a sales hat. That works fine. So, the position may need a name as well.

Then specify to whom this position reports. Your reporting structure will probably be clear in your organization design (and if it isn’t, it should be to take a look).

Section Two: define hat responsibilities

In this section, you describe the role of the hat. If this is a sales hat, define your expectation of sales. Note that this is independent of the person who will eventually take this position.

If you are a one-person show, you can get by with a few bullet points in this section, but you will want to add more details over time and especially as you add people. The more explicit and specific you can express responsibilities, the easier it will be for anybody to understand the role and deliver according to your expectations.

Don’t feel that you have to fit this in the box! Responsibilities could go on for pages, and that is fine.

Get as specific and detailed as possible.

Section Three: define position-specific responsibilities

This section capture those responsibilities that are specific to the position. This matters if you have multiple positions wearing the same hat.

For example: maybe you have a sales hat and three geographic sales positions: West, Mid, and East. In this section, you define the specific responsibilities for each region.

Section Four: qualifications

This section captures the qualifications you require and that are nice to have.

Some qualifications are non-negotiable: if you hire a partner in an accounting firm, they must have a CPA. Ideally, your orthopedic surgeon knows a thing or two about operating on bones. These are must-haves.

Other qualifications are not so essential; list them here as nice to have’s.

And remember: hiring senior people is risky. You will tend to believe that senior people are easier to hire because they will get what you do with less effort and less training.

That is rarely the case because senior people have their own way of thinking and doing things different from yours. But, you want your people to follow your process, not bring in their process.

I worked with an accountant once who hired a director-level person to take over their tax department. He used this own system, was inflexible, and would not change; this created painful friction that eventually led to him leaving in a huff six months later. Hiring the director was an expensive distraction that set the company back.

Hiring junior people who fit your organization and culture is often less risky and less expensive. But to make this work you must have your processes in place. You must build a business machine.

Still, you want to develop the nice to have skills in your junior people, so know what they are, capture them here.

Section Five: key performance indicators

Finally, identify how you will assess this position and measure good and bad performance. Do this with, well, metrics.

There are two types of metrics: milestones and performance.

Milestone metrics are yes/no achieve it or don’t type metrics.

“Create ads for Facebook” is a milestone metric: if the ads exist, you are done. You want to minimize these metrics because they don’t tell you anything about the quality or whether the thing being done delivers results. Ideally, you have no milestone metrics, but you will likely have some since you don’t live in a perfect world.

Performance metrics measure the results of the work.

One hundred sales from Facebook ads is a performance metric; you will create the ads, but it is only if the ads work that you get the kudos.

When creating metrics for your role, make sure responsibility, accountability, and scope are aligned.

Suppose you make someone accountable for a metric, such as 100 Facebook sales. In that case, you must also ensure that they are responsible for achieving that metric. In the case of Facebook sales, there may be some constraints they have to work with, such as product design and price. But all aspects of creating Facebook sales must be up to the accountable person. For example, suppose they are only responsible for the copywriting and have no say over how the ads are placed. In that case, they cannot commit to achieving this goal alone.

Scope is similar.

Returning to our sales example, the metric for the position responsible for the West should be related to the West. They can have some shared responsibility for all sales. Still, their key measure of performance cannot be outside of their control.

Metrics must be easy to capture and regularly updated.

We often see metrics that have no use because they are too complex to update, so they never are, or they are not updated regularly. Avoid this mistake with simple metrics and a process to keep them updated.

Position descriptions are extremely useful

They help you identify the work that needs to be done and start separating the hats from one another. It is valuable to think about positions even if you are a solopreneur (who wants to grow), and it is critical if you plan to hire anybody to work for you.

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