What’s the difference between a job design, and a job description?

What’s the connection between job design and continuous improvement cultures?

Most people consider job descriptions a waste of time. But why? 

We’ve all seen job descriptions, they are usually a laundry list of details describing every aspect of a role…from the most important responsibilities to the smallest minute task details.

When I ask people what they use job descriptions for, the most common answer I hear is they are used for hiring purposes. The description is usually provided to the candidate so that they understand their potential role. I have not met anyone who uses them to guide ongoing development regularly. 

Job designs are a better alternative to traditional job descriptions

How does a job design differ from a job description? A job design provides meaningful documentation reflecting how a role functions and what more significant role the job holds in the bigger picture. It answers the question, what does a person need to know in order to do the right things and get the desired results? It also gives the person a greater understanding of the impact of their role. If something is included in a job design, it has strategic importance. 

If you were looking at a job design compared to a description, they might not look very different at first glance. Yet the difference is that each element of the talent system should connect to the design for that specific role. The interview questions, the training plans, development plans, career implications, performance reviews, and compensation should all tie into the job design. 

Job design and continuous improvement 

What makes job design so critical to CI cultures is that typically, the organization needs to redesign what’s included in various work roles. Most organizations I encounter are struggling to make CI efforts part of the jobs rather than a separate activity. 

When there isn’t clarity regarding what this looks like, often it isn’t implemented at all. Therefore, we need to clarify or detail what improvement capabilities look like as a part of the roles. 

Recently, I’ve been working with an organization that has redefined how operational roles are structured. The challenge has been to reach a consensus as a group about what that means and how it will evolve over time. 

As we built the newly defined roles, we included preventative maintenance, cross-training, CI capabilities, and proactive behavior in the new standards. 

This helped the group put into words what they had been envisioning but had not been able to articulate. They often struggle to describe what they mean because it can be a challenge to break things down into specific behaviors and actions that reflect their intention. 

During my time with them, I asked this group an important question: 

What would people in any role be doing if they were more proactive?

Not surprisingly, they weren’t sure how to answer.  It’s common to want to reduce the amount of firefighting and reactive behavior, but not have a clear direction or vision as to what people should be doing instead. 

When is the right time for job design?

Not sure if you or your organization can benefit from job designs?

If any of the following sound familiar, it may be time to implement job designs.

  1. You’ve reset expectations for a role and the written documents don’t match. 
  2. Expectations are vague or unclear. 
  3. People complain that they don’t know what success looks like for them.
  4. People aren’t sure how to grow into higher level roles (lack of career paths). 
  5. Leadership isn’t clear on how to hold people accountable or what to hold them accountable to. 
  6. You have a suspicion people aren’t fully trained to do their jobs but it’s not clear what they need training in. 

Does your organization use job designs? I’d love to hear how you use job descriptions or job designs. Reach out and let’s chat.


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