|Jobs by Design
March 23, 2003
by Diane S. Bégin, B.A., C.H.R.P.
A well designed job, which mutually benefits the employee and the employer, lays the foundation for a successful recruitment and retention program. A carefully crafted job also frames work expectations and creates an environment that encourages employees to succeed.
For most managers, the process of turning a tired vacancy into a job that is fit for occupancy is no small task, especially as the speed and complexity of workplaces intensifies. To that end, managers will find the following article provides helpful guidelines in designing jobs.
First off, the job’s relationship with organizational goals and values should be well understood in order to align and prioritize the job’s responsibilities. Organizational value statements should be intertwined with the job’s expectations to help facilitate a “best fit” between the prospective employee and the organization.
Clearly linking goals set for the organization to job responsibilities is also good practice, particularly for leadership positions charged with redirecting the pace, results or expectations of a unit. As well, the job’s responsibilities should have sufficient breadth and depth to accommodate anticipated changes to future work demands caused by alterations in legislation, client demands, core business strategies and fiscal realities.
A word of caution here: a job’s lifespan shortens as the speed of change accelerates. Generally, if the job’s longevity is in question, it is always best to outsource or staff internally for a pre-determined period of time, rather than to recruit permanently and be faced with a layoff situation in the end or a significantly changed job where the incumbent no longer fits.
The job’s reporting relationship and location should align with the job’s range of responsibilities. A Communications Officer job, for example, may report to a President at a head office location or an Operations Supervisor at a remote field location or a VP of Marketing in another country. Clearly, each of these scenarios offers a job with a very distinct span of responsibility and influence.
Finally, ensure that responsibility in the job comes with the necessary accountability and authority to perform the job. For example, a Program Manager should be assigned the responsibility for the program budget along with the authority to spend against that budget and the accountability to answer to budget shortfalls. When these three job ingredients are dispersed across several jobs it often generates conflicts and performance problems for the incumbents.
Maximizing Value while Minimizing Burnout
Throughout the changes experienced in an organization, efforts should be made to retain and maximize the value jobs bring to the organization. Often times, highly ambitious organizational changes brought on by mergers, staff reductions and other similar strategies, produce jobs with overlapping responsibilities, gaps in service delivery, and disconnects in workflow. This in turn leads to serious inefficiencies, employee conflicts, and frustrated customers.
Molding work expectations through periods of transition requires continuous attention to the job’s relationship with other positions. A vacant job should have its responsibilities adjusted to match these expectations. This includes a check on the organization’s obligations regarding accounting practices, legislative requirements, and industry standards.
To maximize skills utilization when building a job, it is a good practice to box together responsibilities that are associated with the same occupational family. For example, responsibility for ordering supplies and administering the petty cash should not be assigned to a job whose main purpose is to manage a complex information technology project. Nevertheless, variety is still l spice of life. Every job should be given enough variety to offer the incumbent a reasonable amount of diversity in work environment, people, context or challenge.
Workload is also an important factor in designing a job. Attention to the volume of work, especially for high process jobs, is well worth the effort. If there is a permanent increase in the volume of work, it is always better to find additional resources or efficiencies than to overload a job with more of the same work. Otherwise, burn outs, resignations, and health problems are often the result. Clearly, tasks or duties that have little value should be removed from the job.
Considering the Incumbent
A job should be packaged with a help line, not an instruction sheet. In other words, the higher the incumbent’s involvement in deciding how responsibilities and results are achieved, the higher their potential for growth. Responsibilities assigned to a job should provide the incumbent with opportunities to create, to take risks, and to shine.
Performance measures and outcomes should be easily identifiable and job responsibilities should link to opportunities for career progression or to other challenging work -- either formally, such as in a full-time assignment to a section, or informally, such as in a part-time assignment to a project or committee.
The job must be occupant friendly, and conscientious of any restrictions a potential incumbent may have. For example, responsibilities, qualification requirements and working conditions should adhere to human rights and occupational health and safety legislation. As a final hint, to supplement organizational learning efforts, all jobs should include a responsibility for training others or for transferring knowledge to colleagues.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
D. S. Bégin, B.A., C.H.R.P., is a senior consultant and associate of FMP/Flaman Management Partners Ltd. and an active member of the Canadian Association of Management Consultants. She has 18 years of experience managing strategic human resources projects in government and broader public sector organizations in Canada, the province of Ontario and abroad. Her contact information is given below.
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