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Writing Job Descriptions: A Challenge For Business Owners

But a necessary step in developing effective employee training methods

Writing job descriptions for new and existing positions in your business can be challenging, but necessary, to develop effective employee training methods and employee performance evaluation programs. To simplify the process, use a template or example job description (make sure to relate the description and expectations to policies like the employee code of conduct).

Position descriptions describe the tasks or duties and functions and responsibility of the jobs being written about. A description of the job is necessary when hiring employees, when developing training programs, and when evaluating employee performance (and comparing performance to the job function and responsibilities).

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How to Write a Position Description?

When writing descriptions (if possible, use an example job description as a template), it is important to ensure that key result areas are clearly defined. Employees need to know:

  • what they are expected to do;
  • why the job functions and responsibilities are important and the connection to other areas in the department or business;
  • how to actually do the tasks and how their performance will be measured;
  • if applicable, the timing of when the tasks need to be done;
  • how they will know if they've done a good job (for example, referencing job standards or standard operating procedures is a good method of measuring or comparing performance);
  • who they have contact with in the job: from supervisor, to subordinate, to peers, to suppliers, to customers;
  • and what knowledge, training and/or education they will need to have to do the job.

It is also useful to both the employee and the employer to share the business strategy and the small business plan; and to explain how the job fits into both of those key business elements.

It is also important to connect the job, and the business, with your expectations and with the employee code of conduct. Be upfront. Discuss your values and the culture of the company; and ensure employees have awareness, understanding and acceptance of your expectations.

Use a framework to create your position description:

(or model after an example job description)

  • Job position title
  • An overall statement of responsibility and how the job contributes to the business
  • Specific tasks or duties, described with action verbs (such as to do, to write, to analyze, to operate, to set up, etc.)
  • Specific knowledge or education required (for example, for a graphic designer working in a design firm, there will be a requirement to have specific designer software knowledge or capability)
  • Key result areas (what will be measured; and the link to measure business performance)
  • Reporting structure; who the position reports to and who, if anyone, reports to the position
  • Contacts; does the position have contact with customers, other departments, other employees, other stakeholders?

Writing Job Descriptions

The writing function is often considered the role of human resources however it needs input from the operational manager to ensure it is a good reflection of the job expectations. It's also quite common to have the individual who's been in the job for a while help with writing and defining duties and responsibilities. If the position is an existing job that needs to have a description written, use your human resources department or specialist to do a job analysis. If you don't have a human resources department or specialist, the advantages of outsourcing these human resource activities are significant.

With input from your human resources specialist discover: what are the daily activities, the weekly activities, the monthly and yearly activities? Is the job operations or manufacturing driven? Or customer service driven? Is accuracy important? Is the ability to write in technical English important? What skills, experience, education is necessary to do this job? Look at the job attributes and begin listing them on a description form to help you design the job. If there are human resources issues in developing this description it is best to find out now.

Descriptions for new jobs are more challenging to create because while you might have an idea of what the job should be and what it might look like, no one has actually done that job in your business.

In this case, see if you can find comparative descriptions on job boards or on industry association websites or in comparative industries. Review a new job and the description at least six months to one year after the job was created to ensure that the description is still valid.

List of Characteristics Common to
Writing Position Descriptions:

  1. Break down individual tasks and duties
  2. Knowledge: What does the individual need to know to do that task (e.g. a carpet layer would need to know how to handle different types of carpet)
  3. Health and Safety: What are the safety requirements of the job? (Make sure your business has a safety checklist or plan.)
  4. Quality: Define what a quality performance looks like?
  5. Measurement: are there standards or measurable objectives for the job?
  6. Experience and Education or Certifications required. With education requirements, ensure that they are a real requirement of the job. For example, a lifeguard needs the training, education and certification to be a lifeguard.
  7. Physical Requirements: eyesight, hand and eye coordination, ability to lift 40 lbs., etc. Again these requirements must be necessary to do the job, they cannot be excuses not to hire people with disabilities.
  8. Ensure that all aspects of the job description comply with the laws in your region and country.

Creating and writing descriptions enables you to better understand what is required in each job in your business. If you understand what you need in each position, it will help you in recruiting employees and hiring the right people for your business. If you do this part wrong (or don't do it at all), your newly hired employee(s) may quit or you may find yourself firing employees because they are not performing to your expectations (even if those are not clearly spelled out in your job descriptions). If you do not have time to do this work, consider human resources outsourcing or contracting consultants or specialists.

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Increasing New Employee Success

New employees have a better opportunity for success when you provide a strong orientation for them on day one.

But follow up on that orientation, make sure that they understand what's expected of them and that they have the training and the support to do well.

During the first week, set aside some time each day to check in with them and debrief; listen closely to what they have to say and see if they highlight areas of business or process improvement: sometimes new employees see things that existing staff just don't see anymore.

Be sure to communicate progress and expected results regularly. Provide a written summary performance review after the first month - not at the end of the probationary period - by then it may be too late. Make sure the summary provides both the good results and the areas for improvement - with feedback on how that improvement can be achieved.

Communicate the organization's plan for the future and how the employees contribute to those plans and mission.

Make sure that the culture of your organization is one that attracts the type of people you want working for you. Assess your environment objectively - or hire someone to come in and do an employee survey or assessment for you.

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Performance Evaluation Best Practices

Provide feedback regularly and consistently (and frequently for new employees or those that appear to be struggling).

Recognize good work openly and in front of other.

Consider poor performance as an area for improvement: focus on only one or two improvement areas at a time.

Provide employees with the opportunity for input into their evaluations - this should not be a one-way communication effort, rather it needs to be a two-way effort.

If there are action items that come out of the performance evaluation, and typically there need to be some goals or actions in each evaluation, then follow up - do not wait for a year to go by to check in.