How to Write a Position Description That Works

There are certain employees who get to work on time month after month and still fail to perform as expected because they just don’t know what they are supposed to do at work. According to one study, only about 50% of workers knew what was expected of them. One way to get an employee to deliver on their tasks is to write a position description.

A position description is an internal document that details the responsibilities of an employee, how they will be evaluated and rewarded. It also lists the skills and competencies one will need for a job, it shows where the position fits in the workplace hierarchy and works as a performance management tool.

A job description doesn’t only work for the organisation, it also works for the employee. More than protecting them from doing work out of scope, it is a negotiating tool when it comes to salary adjustment conversations.

If an employee is able to show that they delivered based on what was required, they will have a stronger case than an employee who did not have a position description to begin with.

Who writes a position description?

The quick answer is ‘The human resource manager’ and while this is true, depending on the size of the organisation, a comprehensive position description will benefit from input from several levels of the organisation. This will typically be these 3; Management, the supervisor and the employee. Input from different people will result in a more objectivity and accurate position description.

Management: As the people who run the organisation, a management representative should know what they require from each level of their employees.

Supervisor: It is crucial to have input from the person who oversees the employee doing the work.

Employee: Finally, no one is more intimate with the position than the employee who actually does it.

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With the information gathered from these sources, the human resource manager, an external consultant or whoever is in charge can then follow these steps to write a job description that will help employees and those who supervise them.

Do research

In addition to getting input from the three groups of people in the company, do some research. This will help you write a position description that works. This research will extend to employees whose work relies on the particular position you are writing about.

The job candidate will need to know how their work feeds into other peoples’ jobs and what they need to do to support those people. You can also seek information from outside of the organisation

Pair responsibilities with outcomes

Many position descriptions are written as a long, sometimes intimidating list, of what the employee needs to do. But you should pair this with outcomes. For instance, one of a copy writers’ jobs might be to attend client feedback meetings, the outcome of which could be to evaluate and include their comments into copy.

While an assistant’s job might be to answer phones, the outcome should to ensure that communication gets from and to the right people.

By doing this, you will have a results oriented job description that can really help employees achieve objectives.

Break down tasks

A well written position description makes it easier for employees to know what they are supposed to do and it also makes it easier or the mangers who supervise them.

Under each job function, list the smaller tasks necessary. For instance, Project management might be listed as a job function while making budgets, assembling teams, writing reports can be listed as tasks under it.

Write a Position Description

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Pair technical skills with soft skills

For best results from employees, write a position description that includes both technical and soft skills needed for them to do their job well. These skills, such as proper communication, will determine how well an employee will interact with others.

On the extreme, a lack of soft skills can affect how colleagues receive ideas from an employee and undermine his or her efforts in advancing their career. An employer should therefore not neglect to include them in the position description.

Just as with technical skills, they too can be improved.

Adjust along the way

A lot can change in the workplace, particularly today when innovations are being adopted to make work more efficient. An employer might find that a task which was manual has become automated, freeing them up to focus more in another area.

It is also possible that an employee might be required to get a new certification to be at industry standard. This might result in less, more or totally new roles under their job. None of these scenarios should cause panic if the job specification states that roles can change and if it is revisited from time to time.

Keep it specific

Certain terms are open to interpretation but if you are looking for results, you need the employees to know exactly what is required. ‘Be a team player’ can be specified as ‘Share information openly with colleagues and communicate constructively’.

In this way, the employee will know what they need to do exactly and how to correct it where necessary. Being specific will also help supervisors better evaluate and offer assistance where necessary.

Goals for employees should be kept specific too and should be time bound and realistic. They can be listed as financial targets or as percentages. It is easy to reward, evaluate or adjust these metrics when the time comes.

Who does the employee report to?

It would be unfair to write a position description without including who the employee would report too. An employee relies on their direct supervisor or manager to make available the tools for work, clarity where necessary, discussions on job advancement and so much more.

It is also crucial to include the people who will report to the employee if the position requires that and how the employee should support them.

In Summary

When businesses write job descriptions that work, they remove the uncertainties that workers face in not knowing what to do on the job. The contents of a job specification should be well researched and take into account what the role is and what the employee needs to do, to do it well.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.