Tips for Success:
Position Descriptions

Create-Job-Descriptions-That-Prioritize-

Individuals and organisations are able to thrive when employees clearly understand the structure and requirements of their role, and the description matches their skills and experience. The purpose of a position description is to provide a written description of how and under what conditions a job will be performed.

 

Position descriptions should form the foundation of all recruitment and performance management processes including annual reviews. A position description should state clearly the details of the employment conditions as well as the responsibilities and requirements of the role. Position descriptions can often be overwhelmed with detail about the organisation, their vision and mission and forget to include the important detail about the tasks involved in the role.

Below are some guidelines when reviewing your organisation’s position descriptions to help you update and get the most out of this important document:

  • When putting together a position description for a new role, start by what you would like the outcome to be or what success for this role would look like. If it is a current role, start by writing down all the tasks and responsibilities the person currently handles in the role, and then with the old document start to group together the key areas of focus for the role.
     

  • Position descriptions should have three key areas: the position details (employment conditions), the key responsibilities (duties and tasks in order importance or greatest amount of time) and the key selection criteria (skills, experience and qualifications)
     

  • Position descriptions are the key reference tools for employees regarding their roles, so make sure they are neatly spaced out and formatted, and place all key employment information (employment type, title, award or agreement, level etc.) at the top of the document, before any other information.
     

  • Vision, mission, values can be included in position descriptions, but are not obligatory and can be included in a code of conduct or a professional behaviours policy.
     

  • When grouping together the key focus areas make sure that your title is pitched at the appropriate level. For example “Leadership and Governance” would be an appropriate title for a senior management position, especially when dealing with boards, and “Operations Management” could be used when discussing the day to day management of programs and services.
     

  • When looking at a position description document, ask yourself "what would happen if …….. wasn’t here?" Look at how you would cover the role - would you have to recruit for the position and if you did, what would this person look like in the market? So much of what people do in their roles are not listed in position descriptions, so this is the first step in making the role and the organisation sustainable for the future.
     

  • All key responsibilities need to be focused on what is involved in achieving the outcome of that particular task. This could include an explanation of a time frame, the level of the decision or what steps are involved. Too many position descriptions have responsibilities just listed as an outcome and don’t explain how they want the activity to be achieved. This can become an issue in the performance management process as the framework is open to interpretation. So when looking at the responsibilities, look at what the person would do on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis to make this outcome occur.
     

  • Another advantage of the key responsibilities being grouped, and the detail of the task explained, is it helps to create a greater level of transparency across organisations, including with the on-boarding process of new employees. Performance can be easily measured and less is open to the interpretation of the individual. One of the main issues that gets highlighted when a manager starts a discussion about under-performance is there often hasn’t been clarity or structure in place for a task.
     

  • A position description should be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure the tasks, responsibilities, context and criteria of the role are all relevant and reflect the current needs of the organisation. It is a reference tool for how the whole organisation is structured and what the priorities are for the organisation. If in the review process an employee is working outside the position description,  it allows for the opportunity for the tasks to be reviewed, added, disregarded or shared amongst other roles.
     

  • When listing the key selection criteria make sure each criteria is clear in what is meant by a skill, experience of qualification. Too many criteria highlight a skill such as 'good communication', but do not give the detail of what sort of communication is needed within the context of the role and at what level.
     

  • Make sure all position descriptions get signed off by both the employee and their manager. This will help with annual performance reviews, an under-performance process or when looking at rewards and recognition.