I’ll be the first to admit it: the term “position description” just sounds bland. And many position descriptions, in their current format, live up to their dull name.
More often than not, a position description is just a bulleted list of tasks that someone is expected to perform on an ongoing basis. They are usually only written or updated for hiring purposes: once the position is filled, the description languishes in an HR folder, waiting to be dusted off whenever it’s time to hire someone new.
If this is the case in your workplace, you are seriously under-utilizing one of your operational infrastructure’s most valuable players. A well-written position description can help your whole team -– managers and colleagues, supervisors and direct reports -- stay organized, happy, and committed to the greater cause. The trick is writing them in a way that makes them easy to access, clear to read, and flexible for updating.
Since we’re well into spring, I’m going to use baseball analogies to illustrate some of the many ways position descriptions contribute to a healthy workplace.
Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities
A baseball team only works well when each player knows his position, and is well acquainted with (and exceedingly skilled in) the specific functions of the job. The first baseman knows he is supposed to guard 1st base. To do this, he is allowed to catch the ball, tag runners before they reach 1st base, throw the ball to other players, etc. He might also be great at weaving baskets, writing sports articles, or cooking omelets, but those are not part of a first baseman’s job, so he doesn’t engage in these activities while at work.
Defining A Position’s Purpose within the Company
Any given position is only worthwhile to the extent that it contributes to the goals of the greater organization. People need to understand WHY they are performing their job in the broader context. Let’s go back to the first baseman: he knows his role is confined to a specific area on the field, and that the right fielder, second baseman, etc. are also working to prevent the runner from getting on base. Everyone on the team know the specific part of the field to cover and the actions each is allowed take to prevent the other team from scoring.
Communicating Performance Expectations
It’s hard to know if someone is good at his/her job if there aren’t clear expectations laid out as to what the job entails! What if a pitcher is only given this vague position description: throw balls to home plate. Nowhere in the description does is mention coordinating with the catcher as to how to throw, or to keep an eye on the runners to make sure they don’t steal bases. If these expectations and desired outcomes aren’t made clear upfront, how can you hold him to those standards?
Managing Turnover, Delegating and Outsourcing
Turnover, growth, and job changing are inevitable in any workplace, and it’s critical that the company be able to fully function regardless of who is doing the work. Whether you are putting in a pinch hitter at the end of a long game, or replacing a shortstop mid-season due to a major injury, the specific responsibilities, expectations, and context should be clearly laid out to ensure continuity and smooth transition when someone else steps in.
Defining Organizational Culture
There’s a sense of pride and unity that comes from having clearly established norms and traditions. Sometimes the organization’s culture has direct implications for how each person performs his/her job. Position descriptions are a great place to communicate and perpetuate the culture, especially as it relates to expected performance outcomes. For example, some baseball teams require their players to maintain certain hairstyles or facial hair looks. The greatest hitter on the planet may not be a good fit for a certain team if he insists on keeping his lumberjack beard and flowy mullet. Position descriptions are a great place to communicate and perpetuate the culture.
With all that in mind, are you ready to make position descriptions your workplace MVP?