The end of the job description

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Written by Tim Baker on 3 December 2014

If you have been reading my blogs, you may get the impression that I want to end a lot of things in HR. I do. The things that aren't working are the things I want to put a stop to. One of my previous books - The End of the Performance Review - as the title states, advocates abolishing the archaic appraisal practice the majority of organisations inexplicably cling to. Now I am promoting the end of the job description. It is to be the topic of a new book I am writing.

Frederick Taylor has a lot to answer for. Without doubt, the most influential management thinker of all time - more so than Peter Drucker - wrote the book Principles of Scientific Management more than 100 years ago. It revolutionised the workplace. Taylor believed that we could and should quarantine jobs into a clear process so that worker's performance could be measured, monitored and improved. The job description was a logical extension and progression of the scientific management philosophy.

But work today is radically different to work on the Ford Motor car assembly line a century ago. Perhaps instead of replacing the hammer with another hammer, we find a new tool.

There are many in the people development industry that believe - like the performance review - that we just have to improve the process; in other words, tinker with it to make it better. But it's not an improvement issue. We need to improve our thinking, not improve the tool. What we really need to do is change our viewpoint. Playing around with outdated ideas is futile, and time wasted. We need a complete overhaul in approach. How to craft better KPIs or training managers to deliver better reviews is not the answer.

If you haven't stopped reading yet and dismissed my line of thinking, then the obvious question must be: What do we replace the job description with?

Answer: a role description.

But we already have role descriptions, I hear you say. However, I am not referring to a label or name. What I am referring to is a recognition that people are now playing - or increasingly should be playing - numerous roles in organisations. These roles are becoming at least as, if not more, important than the technical tasks people are expected to do at work. 

The concept of the job as we have come to know it is disappearing before our eyes, like the assembly line. A job description is a set of specific tasks and responsibilities that are performed by a particular job-holder. Role descriptions on the other hand define the tasks people do plus the non-job roles they are expected to play more and more in the workplace.

What are these roles?

There are many, but here are three that apply to your industry, and every other industry on the planet:

  • being a team player;
  • continually growing and developing our skills-set; and
  • being innovative and continuously improving the way work is performed.

Trainers and workplace educators devote considerable time teaching employees how to develop these roles. Why? It is simple because these roles are crucial to all workplace performance.

So, as I see it, the challenge is to convert job descriptions to role descriptions.

Otherwise, apart from anything else, we'll have to continue with the ridiculous legal disclaimer at the end of the job description: Any other duties assigned by the supervisor...


About the author
Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and author and a regular contributor to TJ

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