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Job descriptions, the root of (nearly) all evil?

Posted by David Smith

David Smith

I’d be a terrible London taxi driver. Not only has it been said that my sense of direction is pretty awful, my levels of resilience aren’t that high either. These guys need pretty broad shoulders to do what they do. I see them most mornings, blocking up the traffic to pick up or drop off with a unique blend of self-confidence, authority and control.

We released some research a few months ago suggesting that over a third of recruiters knowingly hire the wrong person just to fill a vacancy. I remembered this number earlier today as I waited for my train. It struck me at that moment because the person working behind the counter was grumpy and dis-engaged. I’m sure she knew all there was to know about the bewildering range of tickets on offer and the next train to call at Somewhereorother. The trouble is, this expert advice was being despatched in a way that made you believe you’ve actually ruined their day for asking! “How dare you ask me for a Cheap Day Saver Anytime Flexi-Return with a Railcard, can’t you see I’m reading the paper?”

I wonder what the contents of this person’s job description are. Technical skills? Certainly. Attention to detail? Maybe. Then you’d expect there to be a whole range of things about customer care, communication, adaptability and resilience. I’d even hazard a guess that the main point of this job is to provide brilliant customer service. Practically speaking, if I want a ticket I could probably figure out how to get one from a machine outside anyway. We want the human beings to do what only human beings can do (for the time being anyway) and display a varied range of ‘soft skills’ like empathy, compassion, support, guidance etc.

So what’s going wrong here? Well, let’s face it, it could be many things. Let’s start at the start though – the good old job description. Its number one purpose is to communicate to an individual what the company expects of someone in that role. It’s a clear statement of the skills and behaviors needed and the role that job plays in the execution of the strategy. It should be used as a basis for solid grading discussions, recruitment and assessment discussions, and on-going performance and career development discussions. When people are clear on what’s expected of them, they are more likely to deliver what you want.

The problem is, the world appears to have fallen out of love with the humble job description (was there ever love..?). Managers hate creating them, HR struggle to keep track, and so we end up with a missed opportunity. Our latest research flags that 69% of companies believe incorrect job descriptions drive candidates with the wrong skills. I think most would agree that fixing this would have huge benefits to the business and its people strategy. Let’s face it, if we can’t properly define the jobs we want people to do everything else will be like building a house on the sand. Is it time for a job description revolution!?


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