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Often Overlooked, Job Descriptions Critical to Organizational Success

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Reviewing and updating job descriptions can be an afterthought in many organizations. Some may even view it as a waste of time. What many leaders don't realize, however, is that job descriptions are not only essential to the recruiting and hiring process, but should be linked to employee evaluations, compensation, and development programs. They can also serve as protection against any legal or compliance issues.

In the January 2013 issue of the Society of Human Resource Management magazine, an article by Kathryn Tyler called, "Job Worth Doing: Update Descriptions" talks to the importance of keeping updated job descriptions. Tyler interviewed many individuals on their perceptions of job descriptions. For instance, Dr. Michael R. Kannisto, director of talent management and acquisition at JLG Industries in Hagerstown, Maryland, explained to Tyler that, "With the compliance environment and legal implications, the stakes are a lot higher for job descriptions to be crystal clear with essential responsibilities. If you have a measure of performance that doesn't appear on the job description and you have a case brought against you, depending on the agency [involved], there could be punishment." Likewise, Janet Flewelling, director of HR operations at Houston-based Insperity, noted, "If you don't keep it up-to-date and you have [an employment] claim against you, that non-updated job description can do as much damage as a good one could benefit you. It can work to help in your defense or it can work to help the employee."

In my work with school districts across the country, I often get asked about the best way to write, review, and update job descriptions. Here are some insights based on my experience:

How often should a school district revisit and/or update job descriptions? I have come across situations in some school districts in which job descriptions have not been updated since the 1980s. Ideally, districts should revisit their job descriptions at least once per year. This could be done during employees' year-end review or included as part of the staffing process prior to recruiting. This will ensure that every description matches the current job responsibilities, and the candidates your organization recruits match your needs and expectations for the job. If your district has recently gone through reorganization or a shift in strategy/focus, it is even more important to review and update job descriptions to align with this change.

What's the best process for reviewing and updating job descriptions? Every employee should have time to review their job description with their manager annually. This provides the opportunity to suggest updates to HR as well as encourage conversation between the employee and manager about goals and expectations for the job. Once these changes are completed by HR, the description should be presented back to the employee and manager for their approval.

What should a job description include? A comprehensive job description should include:
• Job title and summary of responsibilities
• Four to eight key tasks that are required of the job
• Minimum qualifications, including education level, licenses and certificates, professional experience, and skills necessary to do the job
• Working conditions, physical demands, and possible hazards
• Supervision/management interactions
• Acknowledgement that your organization is an equal opportunity employer as well as a stated expectation that the candidate will be responsible for "other job duties as assigned"

A great resource for building job descriptions is O*Net Online. O*NET, or the Occupational Information Network, was built for the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration. The website has free online courses, webinars, and more. There is even a course called the, "Value of O*NET for Educators!"

In a future post, I will discuss the importance of using job descriptions to determine an employee's base pay.


For more information on talent management in education, you can follow me on Twitter at @EmilyDouglasHC.

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