The Job Description: From Static Relic to Dynamic Business Tool

Recently, many HR pundits have begun advocating abandoning the job description as a relic that can’t keep pace with the dynamic nature of today’s workplace. However, what is outmoded is not the job description, but how it has been designed and used.

Job description content has been too general, too subjective and too one-dimensional. No wonder employees have been unclear about their jobs when the job description itself lacks specificity.

Dynamic job descriptions are both job success profiles and blueprints for an organization’s ideal workforce designed to achieve its strategic objectives. They enable an organization to compare actual employees against the ideal workforce based on pre-defined competency and performance criteria. And they provide employees a critical “road map” of personal work priorities, performance expectations and job competencies – all aligned with a company’s business strategy.

With dynamic job descriptions, an organization can:
• Compare each employee’s actual competency levels to those required for job success.
• Get information necessary so that managers know which employees are ready to fill jobs in the future at a given time.
• Customize performance planning and evaluation forms to each employee that are linked to strategic business objectives.

Dynamic job descriptions are a powerful vehicle for communicating clearly to employees about specific performance expectations and success competencies. They can also contribute to performance planning, goal setting and evaluation; feedback and coaching; development planning; career path planning; succession; compensation and rewards; and candidate selection.

What Is a Dynamic Job Description?
A dynamic job description consists of functional and detailed information, further modified by essential job responsibilities and required job success competencies. Accounting for that last element — job competencies — is the “secret sauce” that makes a job description truly dynamic.

Multiple levels of job descriptions are required.
• Functional job descriptions are internal benchmarks developed collaboratively by business function leaders and HR. They reflect what’s needed to achieve current business strategy and should be revisited and updated when business strategy changes. In effect, they translate the organization’s broad business objectives into job-specific, actionable deliverables and success competencies.
• Once employees have an appropriate functional job description they should be involved (with guidance from managers and HR) in editing and customizing that functional job to create a personal job description (derived from the functional job) that specifically fits their local or work unit circumstances.
• Personalized job descriptions reflect each employee’s personal roadmap for job success. Involving employees in personalizing their job descriptions helps them understand expectations and increases their buy-in and commitment to meeting job performance objectives.

Job descriptions should also capture two vital elements that enable job information to be applied to multiple other HR processes — essential job responsibilities and job competencies.

Essential job responsibilities describe the key deliverables, work outputs and performance expectations of a job. To be effective, they must be updated when changes occur in business strategy. Then, they can be used to customize an employee’s performance planning and evaluation. Essential job responsibilities provide employees a direct line of sight between personal performance expectations and business strategy.

Job competencies — often overlooked but essential — represent both the core organization and the job-specific functional and technical skills, behaviors and approaches to work required for job success.

• Core organization competencies reflect an organization’s “DNA” – its distinctive qualities and marketplace persona. They must be understood and practiced by all employees when performing their jobs, interacting with customers and collaborating with each other. For example, core organization competencies might include communicating openly and honestly, teamwork and quality focus.
• Job-specific competencies embody the functional or technical knowledge, capabilities or specialized behaviors required to perform a job’s essential responsibilities.

If organization core and job-specific competencies are clearly defined, along with their associated proficiency levels and accompanying behavioral anchors, then this provides truly objective standards against which an employee’s actual competency levels can be measured and compared to the ideal. This is critical information both for performance reviews and for guiding employee development.

For example, job description competencies and associated target proficiency levels can be used to more accurately assess an employee’s development needs as well as readiness to move up to the next job.

The dynamic job description, when clearly articulated and integrated across multiple talent management processes, can be a powerful tool that supports hiring, measuring performance, identifying training and development needs, coaching, succession planning, career path planning and analyzing workforce readiness to contribute to an organization’s real-world performance.

Robert Levy is president of HR Technology Solutions Inc. He can be reached at