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Job Descriptions:

Dead Wood or Living Tools?

Copyright 2000 Claire Belilos
HIC Hospitality Consulting Services

Terms: For reading only. Not to be sold, reprinted,re-written, distributed, re-broadcast,
uploaded, or used to conduct training by others without written agreement

In small family-owned businesses you can hardly find the necessary management tools to steer the business to success: policies, procedures, job descriptions, evaluation forms and employee handbooks.   These issues are either communicated verbally (if they had been thought out in the owner's mind) or are being dealt with haphazardly, depending on the understanding and instincts of the Supervisor in charge.  The result is:  lack of consistency, low employee morale, lack of trust and teamwork, and a suspicion of favouritism.  Quite often, you are even faced with many instances of employee theft!

In larger companies a Human Resources function exists, whether there is full-time Human Resources personnel or not.  In the latter case this function is directly handled by the General Manager or Finance Executive.   Since many relate Human Resources mostly to Payroll and Benefits, we find that quite a number of companies gave this responsibility to their Finance Officer.  Needless to say that in such instances the more sophisticated issues of Human Resources, Employee Training & Development, Customer Service and other related issues are either never considered or are judged solely on their cost-factor with no-one at the helm to give organizational direction.

Whether companies have or do not have specialized Human Resources and Training personnel, many suffer from antiquated policy manuals and human resources tools.  There is a general tendency to just "add" items to rusty policies and procedures or to "copy" tools from other companies, which are also either antiquated or not fit for the company in question.

The general concept is that the company must have tools such as policy and procedures manuals, job descriptions, appraisal forms and employee handbooks as a "painful obligation", a "pretense at being organized".  

Some revise the tools every few years (it would be sad here to quote an average frequency since many do not do so for 20-25 years despite the dynamic changes the business and working world went through in the last three decades).  Those who do revise them usually do so on old standards and previous formats, without making provision for today's fast-moving pace, constantly changing environment, economies, work and labour realities.

There is a great deal of restructuring, downsizing, and merging of companies right now for the purpose of streamlining costs and revenue.  And yet, many fail to see that real savings in payroll and productivity, coupled by service upgrade to attract and maintain markets, greatly depend on how management directs the organization from the inside.  The organization's expression and direction is driven from inside out.

The stamp of management begins with the company's mission and what it communicates to employees.  The most essential tools which lead employees in the right direction, help create a positive work environment, employee motivation, and final work performance are the tools used for Human Resources management. First on this list are:  Job Descriptions and Employee Handbooks.   

In many cases it is not clear whether employers give an employee his job description in hand or at the very least shows it to him, explain it and discuss it with him (or her).  Many regard job descriptions as necessary printed sheets they must collect in a binder kept in the Manager's office and the Human Resources Department.    In other words, Job Descriptions are usually treated as "dead wood".  They are neither read nor used. They just "exist".  Usually, employees learn bit by bit what is expected of them - only upon being reprimanded since the "usual" job description, whether it is given or not to the employee, does not clearly reflect the expected employee behaviour performance.

Employee Handbooks and Job Descriptions are of crucial importance for the understanding of the company, its setup, values and thrust; a comprehension of the different functions and job responsibilities which make it work; and, of course, the role each employee plays to bring all this to realization.  These are actually "management tools" and should be given the attention they deserve.  They are not there "just for being there".  They must clearly reflect the company, its customers, the market, and the individual roles people play.  

Their role is to assist managers, trainers and employees realize company objectives and performance objectives.   If we deprive employees of such clear direction, who are we to expect flawless performance?  Who are we to blame the people we employ?  

This is why we should think of Employee Handbooks and Job Descriptions as "active, living, dynamic tools" to be continuously used and revised for updates and refinement.  

The way they are written can greatly affect the entire work force, organizational environment, and Customer experience.  Here is a checklist to help you determine whether your company's Job Descriptions are effectively written and gainfully used:

  • When did you last read your company's Job Descriptions?
  • What is their purpose?
  • What do you aim to achieve through them?
  • Do they bring about measurable and observable results?
  • If not, what do they achieve?
  • Who uses them on a regular basis?  for which purpose?
  • What do they communicate to employees?
  • Do they only list task responsibilities?
  • Does each responsibility mentioned clearly explain its purpose? Do they guide employees on HOW they are expected to perform?
  • Who refers to them regularly?
  • Are they being used as Training Tools?
  • Are they also being used as Evaluation Tools?
  • Do they communicate performance criteria for evaluation purposes?
  • How do employees know with which criteria they are being evaluated?
  • Do you encourage them to use them to determine training needs?
  • Do you encourage employees to use them to evaluate themselves?
  • Do you encourage input from employees to improve the content?
  • Do Department Heads regularly upgrade Job Descriptions?
  • Are employees part of the process?
  • Are Job Descriptions used to plan Training activities?
  • Are they being used to discuss operational matters with employees?
  • Are they Customer- and-Service focused?
  • Are they performance focused?
  • Do they communicate the general direction of the company?
  • Do they send a "team work" message?
  • Do they mention company policies and procedures?
  • Do they refer to house rules and regulations?
  • Do they mention job-related safety and security?
  • How often do you revise and update them?
  • If they are not being used as described above, why do you have them?

Our forthcoming book on employee motivation will include some existing samples, re-written for effectiveness.   

If you feel people do not perform as they should, have a good look at their job descriptions.  Are these subject to different interpretations?   Then, you may indeed expect inconsistent job performance.  

If you decide to have more effective tools in place, contact Claire Belilos through

You are invited to subscribe to our monthly newsletter at News is a free-style newsletter discussing different management issues.   

In all instances, please provide verifiable details as requested on the form.  All details provided will be treated confidentially. Thank you.

Copyright September 2000 Claire Belilos

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This article is not to be uploaded, sold or distributed in any form or manner without the written permission of the author (see contact  address below).
Claire Belilos, CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services,, is a Management and Training Consultant.  Her background includes fifteen award-winning years with Hilton International Hotels She creates and facilitates custom-tailored problem-solving workshops on organizational issues, including employee training and customer service.  She designs human resources strategies, work tools, training and evaluation tools.  

She can be reached at:

CHIC Hospitality Consulting Services
#2007-1011 Beach Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. V6E1T8,
Tel: (604) 685-8449 Pacific Time
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