Extreme Makeover: Position Description Edition

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Are you an HGTV fan like I am? If so, think about the dark, cramped, poorly laidout kitchen that is nearly impossible to cook in, featured in the first segment of a home renovation show. One day a design expert comes in and turns the room into something bright and airy, with plenty of counter and cabinet space, and the homeowners not only rediscover their love of cooking, but realize they own top-of-the-line cookware they forgot about because it was hidden away in a cupboard.

As I discussed in an earlier post, position descriptions are not just for hiring purposes; they are all all-star utility players that every workplace should fully embrace. But too often, position descriptions are like the “before” segment on a home makeover show -- boring, poorly laid out, and not particularly functional.  With that in mind, let me tell you how to be the renovation expert who can take those boring, bulleted lists of job functions that get shoved into a drawer and forgotten, and turn them into something beautiful and functional, that can be used for recruiting, hiring, performance management, professional development, reorganization, and many other purposes.

 How to write a good position description

There are two key components to good position descriptions.

  1. An Engaging Purpose: People aren’t just robots making widgets: we all want to feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to feel connected to others. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink explains that people who have a clear sense of purpose are happier, more engaged, and more productive at work. A good position description will encapsulate this sense of purpose and clearly articulate it to both the employee and the rest of the organization.  The position description should start with a brief overview of how this particular position contributes to the whole organization, or to a particular team or department in medium and larger-sized organizations. I recommend doing some system mapping to look at how every member of your staff or team contributes to the whole in order to define the purpose of each position.

  2. Tangible Responsibilities: Now you get to the list of specific duties, but with a twist. First, using post-it notes, list out all of the tasks this position will need to do, as well as the relevant projects or programs. You can be as detailed and specific as needed. Once you have the duties all listed out, take a step back and see how they relate to one another. Then, move the post-its around to group them by functions or categories. When you write the responsibilities into the position description, list them by category and include a 1-2 sentence overview of that overall function or category. Presenting each item in context will paint a clearer picture of what is required and expected of the position, and will also clarify how each item contributes to the overall purpose. 

    If you are creating the description to hire for a new position, you’ll need to add a few other components:

  3. Capabilities/Qualifications: Take a look at all the responsibilities you listed out and identify what experience, talents, and skills, other characteristics are needed to successfully perform each function.

  4. Emotional Appeal: You want to hire someone who is not only qualified, but is also engaged and motivated. The purpose section of the position description should include language that will appeal to ideal candidates but push away those who are less than ideal. For example, work in mentions of core values or workplace culture that reflect how your workplace stands out from others.

Try this out for the positions on your team and let me know what you think!