Long before Silicon Valley entrepreneurs adopted it as their modus operandi, Frederick Taylor was espousing the importance of optimisation. Taylor wrote his seminal management text The Principles of Scientific Management over one hundred years ago and at the time, his thinking was revolutionary. Developed in the manufacturing industry, Taylor’s management philosophy was founded on quarantining jobs as separate parts in a clear process so that each worker’s performance could be measured, monitored and improved. In this orderly world, the job description was a useful, even essential, extension of Taylor’s theory.

Today, work is radically different. Just as leaders have moved on from the task-oriented focus and micromanagement style encouraged by Taylor’s approach, so too have job descriptions fallen out of favour. In many ways, we couldn’t agree more. The traditional JD often descends quickly into describing tasks. Taylor may have approved of this approach, but today this form of JD quickly becomes out of date. This doesn’t mean JDs should be completely discarded. What’s needed is a new approach, one adapted to the changing nature of today and tomorrow’s workplace. 

The JD’s job

Job descriptions still have an important role to play in communicating what organisations expect from people in their jobs: role clarity is important. Poorly defined roles can be a stressor for workers. Poor role definition arises from lack of clarity in workers’ objectives, key accountabilities, their co-workers’ expectations of them and the overall scope of responsibilities of their job.

By setting out the job details, purpose, accountabilities, dimensions and the role within the organisational structure, JDs are also a critical tool in broader organisational processes. They provide organisations with a consistent framework when planning their workforce and making strategic people choices. For example, it becomes much easier to discuss career progression or see how many people may be needed for roles in the future.

A new approach

These arguments in favour of retaining JDs only stand up if the content of the JD supports these purposes. Arguably, traditional approaches to drafting role descriptions don’t do this. A new approach is needed. Using job evaluation as a consistent and objective foundation, we define each role in terms of what it takes to be successful to create a single, consistent and research-based view of a role that can be used across the employee lifecycle.   

Starting with job evaluation ensures each role is seen in context within the organisation and the wider market, as well as providing the basis for understanding the necessary skills, competencies and key performance indicators to ensure job incumbents are successful.     

We then take a wide view of the recipe for success in a role and use this to build a Success Profile. This approach defines “what good looks like” in terms of three core elements. Firstly, the accountabilities of a role – what’s expected of the role; secondly, the associated capabilities – the hard and soft skills, and experiences, that are needed to perform these responsibilities; and thirdly the identity, or traits and drivers, that are characteristic of a person who will thrive in the role.

It’s this focus on success that underpins our new approach to the JD. We’ve built over 4000 research-based Success Profiles that offer an off-the-shelf catalog of what good looks like. These Success Profiles can be used to generate meaningful JDs that create role clarity for the individual as well as providing an effective input for other HR processes.

From here, the Success Profile becomes a powerful tool for responding to some of talent’s biggest challenges. As a neutral starting point, it can, for example, facilitate decision-making around reward during recruitment. Each Success Profile has an associated pay range and a competency profile. You can assess a candidate against the profile and use the findings to have an informed, data-driven discussion around pay. 

Used this way, this new approach to the JD, underpinned by a research-based Success Profile, reinstates the JD as an essential workplace tool both for individuals and the wider organisation.

Learn more about a new approach to job descriptions, download: Job descriptions – Irrelevant of still Meaningful.

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About Contributor

Halim Ariff is the Country Manager of Products at Korn Ferry, Malaysia. With 22 years of corporate and consulting experience, Halim is well versed in high level C-suite stakeholder management. He has served clients throughout ASEAN, East and South Asia as well as in the Middle East. An expert at strategic engagement and board level syndication Halim also oversees revenue, profit, and growth targets for the Products Group. As a member of the senior management team, Halim plays a critical role in ensuring collaboration between teams as well as the cross selling of products and services across all business units within Korn Ferry.

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