We generally hear two perspectives on job descriptions. On one side, a job description is an old industrial age construct that reads like a list of things to do. On the other side, we talk with companies (they’re typically startups) who say job descriptions are too constraining. Here’s David with more about how role clarity leads to empowerment.
We have a client who I think is doing something really smart.
We recently got called in – this is a manufacturing company – and then what they wanted to do was look hard, look anew, at their job descriptions. Now, I get basically two perspectives on job descriptions. On one side, it’s like, “Oh, a job description, that’s an old industrial age construct.” And the job descriptions read like a list of to-dos – perform this, achieve that, deliver that, and it’s all red work. There’s no thinking in the job description.
On the other side, I get companies, they’re typically startups, which are allergic to this job description. They say job descriptions are straight jackets. And we just want sort of a free for all, watch the cream rise, rise to the top.
Now, if you have 10 people in your company, maybe you can get away with that. But once you grow a little bit, what we see happens is just there’s a lot of confusion. There’s a lot of unnecessary friction and unnecessary ambiguity, which saps up the cognitive energy of your people. What you want is for them to just put all that energy into working on their job. So in this case, when we look at job descriptions, there should be three components and they match competence, clarity, and control.
So clarity first. What is the purpose of the job? Not a list of actions, but what are we trying to achieve with this job? Why do we even have this job in the company? Number two, control. What authorities does this job have? So this is where we get into thinking because thinking is decision-making. Decision-making is expressed as control. And then number three, and this is generally the easiest part, is technical competence. What are the things that the person who’s going to be successful in this job needs to know in order to be successful? So for us, they might be things like laws of physics, nuclear reactors, loading torpedoes, the characteristics of potential adversaries, solar system. Those kinds of things. Very technical, detailed things. I can give a test on those technical things.
So we like job descriptions that have those components: control, competence, clarity. Written in a way that the person understands what decisions they can make, what they need to know to be successful, and what the purpose is.
I’m David Marquet. That’s your Leadership Nudge.