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PocketWatch On February - 12 - 2011

This is the third in a series of articles that will hopefully educate readers and illuminate the process of doing business in a simple to understand, nuts-and-bolts way.

In the first two parts of this series, we discussed micromanagement as a leading cause of problems once a business grows beyond the capacity of one person to juggle all the issues an expanding business encounters, and why it is necessary to remind owners of why they are in business so they can stay motivated to make changes in management style to succeed and attain their personal goals.  In addition, the first practical tools were outlined:  The Business Plan and the Organization Chart.  In this article, we will discuss Job Descriptions, what a good Job Description entails, why they are necessary, and how they relate to the Organization Chart and Business Plan.

Job Descriptions – Not your newspaper’s (or online) JD anymore…

Laymen and many business people view Job Descriptions as a pain, a formality, and just something to dash off to throw online or in the paper to get applicants for an opening in their business. Not so!  Let me repeat… NOT SO!

A proper and effective Job Description serves a variety of purposes.

First, it serves as the basis for that job posting in the paper or online.  But before that happens, a lot of thought has to go into the process of the potential hire.  Why are you hiring for this slot?  What are the qualifications needed to perform well?  What are the personal attributes necessary to fit into the organization?  Are there physical or mentation requirements or limitations to be considered?  Language?  Ability to read and write well?  Speak well?  Language skills? The list can be extensive, and it must be comprehensive.

If an owner feels that they just need a ‘warm body’ to fill a position, my suggestion is they stop being a business owner and do something else for a living.  It is unfair to both the company and the person hired to be a bad fit.  The hire is a person with a life, and not hiring the right person and taking care in the process simply sets them – and the company – up for failure, and failure is expensive and wasteful and can be devastating for the person so abused, and it is abuse to intentionally hire someone to fail.

Second, a good Job Description describes the position in detail.  That means listing all the duties the position requires, not some vague phrases that sound good and mean little.  Saying that you need a “good administrator” means absolutely nothing.  Saying you require someone to “manage office staff, ensure bills are paid on schedule, assist with cash flow planning, negotiate with vendors for office purchases” and so on is specific, and will clarify both to the owner and the applicant what the job will be like and what will be expected.

Third, a Job Description identifies by title and/or function, who reports to whom.  It is an impossible task for employees to perform effectively if they do not have a clear undestanding who their real boss is, or who reports to them.  Too many companies and organizations get into trouble by acting like ‘puppies in a basket,’ where everyone does everything, and they get into that habit when really small.  As they grow, they don’t know how to get out of that mess.  Remember the Organization Chart I said was so necessary?  Well, here is where that chart is applied in the real world.  By mapping out the functions of the company and who reports to whom on an Org Chart, and referring to it every time a hire is contemplated, it becomes very clear where that new person will fit and what they should and will be doing.  Without that Org Chart, every hire is a new experience, overlapping duties and authorities sprout like weeds, and your organization becomes a dis-organization very quickly.  The Org Chart is a tool to keep that from happening.

Fourth, a thorough Job Description will identify the working conditions the person will work in.  Will they be working in an office, an unheated shop, around dangerous or loud equipment, outside, dirty, smelly?  You and the applicant need to know and think it through to make a good fit.  In addition, what are the physical requirements?  Lifting, climbing, sitting all day, crawling, repeated arm and hand movements, bright or dim lighting… all can be restrictions for applicants.  Again, it is important to know up front before hiring or an applicant accepting the position.

Fifth and finally, a good Job Description needs to set out very specific and measureable metrics for the position that are designed to fit into the company’s financial plan (remember that Business Plan I mentioned in another article?).  How many widgits an hour, deadlines, paperwork required, reports to monitor performance, allowable waste of materials, cleanliness, dress, safety issues… all need to be quantified (numbers, hours, days, percentages, parameters) and listed.  This forces the owner or manager to think the position through with an eye towards the company’s needs as it relates to both company culture and the needs of the company.  It also gives the applicant and ultimately the person hired a very specific knowledge of what will be expected of them for the compensation offered.  Too many times, we are left totally in the dark as to what our job really is or what is expected of us.  Then, when we are evaluated down the road, we have no idea what we are really being evaluated on!  Again, a recipe for failure, resentment, unrealized expectations, and morale problems on both sides of the equation.  Besides, it’s just plain unfair!

Personally, I ask an applicant to read through this sort of extensive Job Description right at the top of the interview, and use it to talk about the position in detail.  That way, if the applicant has any concerns about being able to do the work, it comes out right away.  Finding that out later is a waste of everyone’s time and company resources.

I cannot emphasize this enough… you need a good Business Plan and a detailed financial plan to do this right.  You need to know how each person in the organization will contribute to that plan in order for the plan to succeed.  If you expect to have, say, a 10% Net Profit at the end of the year, you will have to deconstruct how to get there.  How many widgits and what price and at what cost, what the overhead is, and so forth.  If you have 10 people making widgits, how many per day or week will it take to get there?  Are 10 people enough or too many?  How many managers, designers, administrators, etc?  This will then determine what you can pay them, what the level of benefits you can afford, and so on.  Dovetailing the Job Descriptions into this plan is good planning.

What’s the old saying?  If you fail to plan, plan to fail.

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Please contact me offline at [email protected] with anycomments, suggestions or ideas for future articles that you may not want to share here.

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Written by PocketWatch

I am a small town boy from northern Wisconsin, who grew up in the quintessential American family. Dad was a carpenter, mom stayed home, two brothers and a sister. Our politics, and we were political, was always Democrat. My dad always said all you had to do was to look at what each side was fighting for, and it was easy to see, even as a kid, that Republicans were all about big money and rich businessmen, whereas the Democrats were more about social solutions. I spent 6 years in the US Army in the VietNam era as an electronic instructor for NSA, worked as a Field Engineer for a computer firm based in Massachusetts, spent another few years building paper mills around the world for a firm from Washington state, drove long haul truck for a while, did 10 years of servitude in NYC for a large multinational market research company as the Business Manager, spent some more time on the road as a Business Consultant, and the last bit as the Business Manager for a manufacturing firm here north of Houston. I am trying to start up my own consulting firm using all my experience to help small and medium sized businesses stay out of trouble versus waiting until they get into trouble. No one teaches people how to properly run a business. Business schools and MBA programs really don't. There are very basic nuts and bolts that are either assumed or are ignored, and like the house built on sand, businessmen and entrepreneurs ignore these solid foundations at their peril. (Now retired and doing some substitute teaching at a couple of small K-12 schools here in northern Wisconsin. Living in a small hamlet of 340 people, quiet, peaceful, serene.)

5 Responses so far.

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  1. JackRusselTerrier says:

    Thank you for the valuable information.

    I believe that is where we can shine as bloggers.
    Opinion pieces are great when written well, but factual information and lessons on how to use that information mixed with inspiration… this can be life transforming.

    May I suggest that you further your series to include a larger sample of vetted source recommendations expanding on your subject material. It would be instructive to hear about examples of success and failure too.

    I would also like to see a few more topics discussed. Here are a few suggestions…
    -- Financing a business
    -- Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents
    -- Contract negotiations
    -- Motivating employees
    -- Fairness in the workplace
    -- Healthcare insurance (if your employees feel that you are taking care of them, they will take care of you).

    Thanks again for taking the time to try and educate people. I have read all of your series and look forward to reading more from you.

    • PocketWatch says:

      I appreciate your suggestions, and thanks for following along.

      I am not an expert in financing or trademarks, copyrights or patents, however. I am not a tax or health insurance expert by any stretch either.

      However, as you may be able to see, I am incorporating motivation (we will see a lot more of that when I get to evaluations and quarterly bonus pools… see some remarks I made under Part 2). I am all about fairness, as you may be able to tell from this piece.

      As for attribution and sources, I thought about that, but I think that people should explore for themselves using these ‘tip’ pieces as guides and take what they need and leave the rest. My purpose is to educate anyone reading these in the ways of business from an inside view so they can tell for themselves whether what they hear or read about in the real world is BS or not, adequate or not.

      Finally, I do this for a living. For example, I have designed a Job Description Template that I use. There are many good ones out there for free as well, but mine follows a format and has content I know works in all situations. I won’t give that away.

      I am also refraining from “war stories.” Frankly, I don’t want this series to be about me, but about the information, and how a business SHOULD be run, not only to achieve the goals of the owner, but to serve the community of workers, their families, the vendors and customers. It’s a fine line, and maybe I will relate some stories down the line to illustrate how to do something and how not to do something. I’ll give it some thought.

      Again, thanks for the feedback, and I’m willing to talk about it more.

      • david p canada says:

        Good article, PocketWatch.

        Aptitude and vocabulary are two indicators whether the person in front of you is capable for the job, even if the person’s previous experience doesn’t quite seem to fit the job description.

        For example, I don’t really care if the applicant can recite the Pythagorean Theorem, but if they can’t tell me who came up with it, we’ve got a problem.

        If a person is capable of learning and retaining information under pressure, we’ve probably got a winner. Simple to complex aptitude tests are readily available on the internet.

        In any case, I am digressing a tad, so I will simply encourage you to continue the series. Good insight.

        • PocketWatch says:

          Interviewing is as much art as science.

          When I worked in NYC as a Business Manager, one part of my job was to hire/fire for the NY office as well as get candidates for our offices all over the country for our District Managers.

          We had a test we gave for all applicants in the main office which directly related to market research, the field the company was in.

          It was actually a simple test, where, if you carefully read the setup, and followed the sense of the question, the answers were contained in the question. Having said that, in the entire time that test had been given, only two people ever aced it.

          Anyway, one guy came in, interviewed well, and when I gave him the test, he came back and I scored it. He got absolutely none of the answers right!

          When I told him that, his reaction caused me to hire him.

          He was amazed, and asked me to go over each question and tell him where he went wrong… not apologetic, not ashamed, not sheepish, just really curious and wanting to know.

          He made a really good Customer Service agent.


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