OUTCOMES- The end of Job Descriptions
The End of Job Descriptions
Jeffrey A Pelletier M.A.
The standard job description is a list of the generalized responsibility tasks, activities, scope, duties that a person must meet in the course of their employment. Most job descriptions are nothing more than task lists, and an outline of a “flow” of the work, in an attempt to somehow prescribe the activity of the job as a means of controlling the work in advance.
I’m not sure this approach ever made any sense, but NOW it is obsolete and a new paradigm is needed, in short, job descriptions at every level must be reinvented. Why? In an era of constant improvement what we DO is always changing.
Welcome to Outcome Based© job descriptions!!!
In a world of constant change it is not feasible and does not make any sense to try to describe the tasks or sequence of a job, and in fact it is, plainly, why job descriptions once written, are virtually never looked at again. Job tasks are constantly changing. Outcome Based© job descriptions on the other hand define what you want the job (and the person doing it) to accomplish, to define its eternal end point and its subsidiary destinations to getting to it. The end point is the job’s purpose, the reason it exists, and its primary outcome. This approach produces a template for employee and manager alike, because it provides a meaningful context for managing performance and succeeding at work. How?
First, it gives the employee a sense of significance and purpose that is linked and informed by the organization’s purpose, and second, Outcome Based© job descriptions give the supervisor or manager a benchmark for helping people succeed because the purpose and outcomes also define employee success and contribute directly to organizational success, and third, they liberate people to be innovative in how they accomplish these outcomes so there is a deep sense of relevance, people know what they are charged with accomplishing and can point to that success. A read of the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Hardcover)by Marcus Buckingham (Author), Curt Coffman (Author) Managers have something tangible to reward at review time. Fourth, business is about results, when jobs are formulated towards success, managing people towards that success becomes a management obligation.
The idea for them came from inspiration I received from the book “Good to Great- Why some companies make the leap and others don’t” by Jim Collins. This book led me to wonder, why are some companies making the leap and others not? I have been studying the Collins’ team’s work for a few years, and do not detect much praxis within their findings, not much actual guidance. But that is also not what the book is about. It is afterall a study of success and the ingredients of that success. But the recipe is lacking. I’ve been contemplating that recipe now for four years and I believe the way to greatness can be found. One obvious answer is that most companies don’t really challenge the status quo. How we look at jobs and how we manage and describe them has remained pretty static. I believe its time to change that for the better. In the book, and on his web site, http://www.jimcollins.com/, he points to the difference between a job and responsibility and Mr. Collins uses the example of an Air Traffic Controller. The person doing this job has one over-riding responsibility, to make sure the planes don’t crash, and they take that responsibility very seriously. This responsibility is the purpose of that job and thank heavens, why it exists.
But here is a description of the job taken directly from the FAA website’s employment page for an Air Traffic Control Specialist (Developmental)
Duties : Terminal controllers control air traffic at airports and give pilots taxiing and takeoff instructions, air traffic clearances, and advice based on their own observations and information from the National Weather Service, Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs), flight service stations, pilots, and other sources. They transfer control of aircraft to the ARTCC controller when the aircraft leaves their airspace, and they receive control of aircraft coming into their airspace. This is a developmental Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS) position responsible for the safe, orderly and expeditious movement of air traffic through the nation’s airspace. Developmental controllers receive a wide range of training in controlling and separating live air traffic within designated airspace at and around an air traffic control tower or radar approach control facility.
It’s a good thing, in my view, having looked at this job description, that the culture in the tower, and the Controllers themselves, understand the responsibility they have,.
Outcome based© job descriptions work like this:
Determine the organization’s purpose-
Determine the job’s purpose. (It’s primary outcome)
Determine the key outcomes that when achieved fulfill the job’s purpose.
Let’s look at each of these.
The core purpose- Why does the organization exist?
First, you can see the cascading effect of the flow and the linkage that naturally occurs. The organization’s purpose is its reason for being. Articulating this purpose is a powerful process and it can take weeks or months to determine. (Of course you don’t stop the job purpose discussion, if this isn’t in place.) The point is to be concise, and real, authentic. Don’t make it up. The idea is that you want to define the real or actual purpose of the organization which may or may not be the current or stated purpose even if one exists. Authenticity is a key, necessary, organizational component throughout, and provides tremendous learning to help owners, founders and presidents understand why they created or are leading their organization. It is critical and applicable for a whole host of reasons. For example when Walt Disney came to the conclusion that his company’s purpose was “to make people happy”, it informed his organization and it’s work, in profound ways.
Crystal D is a St Paul Minnesota crystal awards maker in the employee recognition industry and went through the process of purpose definition. About four years ago, I began a consulting relationship with them. During the discovery phase of relationship, I spent intermittent time (to allow time for reflection) asking Chuck Dahlgren, the owner and founder, about his business. Why does it exist? What is the big idea want to achieve? What is the essence of the primary on-going outcome you want your organization to achieve? His first answer was to “make money”. After about six weeks Chuck came to the realization that he really had a higher purpose. Somehow he wanted to create his awards in such a way that when the person looked at it years after receiving it, that person would re-live the feeling they had when they were originally presented with it. He wanted the award to invoke this feeling. This understanding became the following purpose- “to turn emotions into memories.” Every employee “gets it”. From design to etching, to boxing and shipping, this purpose is the basis, the foundation, of everything else they do.
(Identifying the real Core Values is also a critical step that I am not addressing here as they don’t impact the job description directly.)
Determine the purpose of the job relative to the organization’s purpose.- why does this job exist?
A job’s purpose is its primary outcome and its “responsibility” to the company. A job’s purpose should support the attainment of the organization’s core purpose directly or it should directly support a job that does. If you can’t formulate a meaningful purpose for a job in this manner, chances are you should question why that job exists at all.
A word about Value-Added. Every job should add value. Adding value is that which you do that moves your business forward. Not those things that make money, or lower costs, but those things that move the business forward. Those things you do that don’t move your business forward should be avoided and those things that do should be pursued. So when it comes to determining a job’s purpose, one way to determine it is to ask, “How does this job move the business forward?’
Jim Grill the Vice President of Human Resources at Apex International in Chaska, MN, a fast rising contract manufacturing company in the personal care industry, has the following job purpose: “to make people the competitive advantage of the company”. This purpose was ordained by the President and founder of the company, as an “annual goal” which we converted to an on-going purpose because it was unattainable as an annual goal. I asked Dave Goldberg, “What is it you want Jim to accomplish? After a day or two he said,. “ I want people to be our competitive advantage.” This is powerful because Apex is a contract manufacturer. Most contract manufacturers are like commodities, which as we all know are price driven. In order to change that perception Dave realized that people were going to make the difference. My role was to add value by suggesting that the RIGHT people are the keys. In order to move the business forward, Dave realized that people need to be his competitive advantage.
Jim is very clear why his job exists, even more so when it is tied to the company’s core purpose:
“To contribute to our customer’s success, by making people the competitive advantage of the company.”
Jim understands two things: 1, Apex is all about the customer, and 2, people are the key. Armed with a responsibility like this, Jim has no trouble being motivated and focusing his efforts. This context is a powerful presence in all of our conversations.
And did you notice that his job’s purpose is eternal? It will be a constant in his work-life, and never needs updating, only maintaining. How creative and innovative he is will determine his success and you can clearly see that he has the full endorsement of the top of the organization.
Determine the key outcomes that when achieved fulfill the job’s purpose. – these are the stops along the road to success?
Within each job, identify and articulate the key outcomes that, when achieved, fulfill the job’s core purpose. When you do this step it will be tempting to simply write the tasks or the sequence you want followed. This would be a huge mistake. Identify the subsidiary outcomes. For example one Sales VP has as his job’s outcome- Develop new revenue streams, new Strategic customers, or identify new market segments that meet Apex revenue and earnings criteria.
It is important and critical that the subsidiary outcomes are “results” or outcomes AND that they LEAD behavior not describe it. In the era of constant improvement HOW we work is always improving, but another look at the above sales outcome, and you can see how it moves the business forward.
Each of the subsidiary outcomes should cascade out of the job’s purpose and when they are attained, fulfill the job’s primary outcome, its purpose.
Here are some examples.
VP Human Resources-To contribute the success of our customers’ by making people the competitive advantage.
Sales VP-To contribute to the success of our customers by helping them to grow and save money.
CFO-To contribute to the success of our customers by ensuring Generally Acceptable Accounting Practices and meaningful and pertinent interpretation and measurement of financial information.
VP Operations- To contribute to the success of our customers by creating and maintaining lean supply chain management and continuous improvement in production.
The company’s core purpose is: To contribute to the success of our customers by helping them to grow and save money. If you study the above job purposes in the light of this core purpose, you can see that each job’s purpose does in fact MOVE THE COMPANY FORWARD.
Reinventing the job description in this way, provides leadership with a performance “infrastructure” that will accelerate performance management. It focuses on what you want people to accomplish, not what you want them to do. It defines their responsibility to the company. It makes jobs meaningful, value added, measurable. What gets measured gets done, as the saying goes. Outcome Based© job descriptions are one important key (of FIVE that I use) to help organizations become great. While it sounds easy, it is surprisingly difficult to do.
To learn how we can help your organization, visit http://www.becominggreat.com/.
Jeffrey A Pelletier, MA-