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					Oct. 12, 2002, 6:41PM

Note pros and cons of job descriptions
By DON DOGGETT
The information here is intended to provide only a general understanding of small-business issues. Readers with
business problems should consult appropriate professionals for advice on their particular circumstances.
I am opening a distribution center and will be hiring a number of employees to perform various tasks. I had planned
on having job descriptions on each position but recently have heard of problems resulting from using them. What are
some of the pros and cons of job descriptions?
A. Generally speaking, having job descriptions has been an accepted practice for many employers over the years,
but there are those who see them as a greater hindrance than a help. Here are some of the pros and cons.
Pros
· They assist the owner in defining what work has to be done, the amount of time required to perform the task, the
qualifications required and any other pertinent information. With this information, the employer can be reasonably
certain that the need exists for a full-time worker.
· It is a valuable tool in recruiting and hiring. It assists in identifying candidates who are not qualified for a certain
position, thereby reducing the odds of making a poor employment decision.
· Perhaps their greatest value is defining for new employees what is expected from them. There is considerable
evidence to show that many a potentially good employee was lost because he never knew what was expected of him
and he and his boss were seeing his accomplishments from totally different perspectives.
· They provide a common denominator for employee and supervisor to discuss specific performance deficiencies
and determine what training may be needed to overcome these shortcomings. Further, documentation of such
discussions and training efforts may be of value should you have to terminate the employee.
· They provide quantitative standards against which objective performance appraisals can be made as opposed to
questionable, emotional evaluations made without such standards.
Cons
· They tend to typecast an employee. Such a view can severely restrict employees' initiative to be innovative, and
they may do only what is covered in the job descriptions. Innovation could result in improving procedures and
methods.
· You may limit your perspective of the employee's potential and capabilities, as you may tend to see the employee
as fulfilling the described position only.
· Job descriptions need to be constantly reviewed and updated as activities, procedures, position information and
technology change. If you are not careful, the position's description and incumbent can become outdated and
inadequate.
The net result is that the value of having job descriptions appears to outweigh the disadvantages.
So to be on the safe side, you probably need to use job descriptions.
The important additional step you need to take is that while using these management aids, you should train yourself,
and any other supervisory personnel, to use job descriptions within reason and not let them become the sole measure
of an employee's capabilities and long-range potential.
In some instances, supervisors have had good success with having incumbents, who have been on a job six months
or more, propose a rewrite of the job description. It has frequently been an eye-opener to see how the job is
perceived by an employee and how many activities can be eliminated, streamlined, automated or otherwise
improved to make the job more interesting and the results more cost-efficient.
Improvements also have been made by allowing one or more workers to perform several tasks and then develop new
job descriptions that may describe a totally new position.
Don Doggett is a management counselor for the Service Corps of Retired Executives, or SCORE, a volunteer,
nonprofit association sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration. For information about SCORE and its
free counseling and workshops, call 713-773-6565.

				
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