Job descriptions are one of those constructs that seem a staple of working life. When you’re applying for a role you’ll be given a basic description to compare yourself against, whether it’s in terms of the skills you (hopefully) have or the experience you’ve gained.
Then when you’re offered the position, you’re given a much more detailed job description, which will usually contain a whole list of things that you’ll be expected to perform. The chances are you’ll be assessed against those things at any performance review meetings that take place in your company.
Those reviews will then quite probably form the basis of factors like your pay, whether you get given a bonus, maybe even if you’re given a promotion. All of that stemming from a simple job description.
For such an instrument of modern working life, you would perhaps imagine that their utility is pretty much beyond any kind of dispute. They’re everywhere, so they must be useful, right?
Well I’m going to argue the opposite. I think that not only are they not at all useful, but I think they’re downright dangerous in a corporate environment.
Why job descriptions are bad
Think about the process I outlined above. When so much of what you do is driven by the narrow confines of a job description, it places a massive restriction on the way you can contribute to your organisation.
The issue is made worse by the fact that the vast majority of job descriptions are actually created by someone else. Indeed, they’re created by someone who often has very little knowledge of your unique skills and experiences. How can they possibly have a full idea of how you may be able to contribute to your company?
Lets think of a better way to do things. Imagine if rather than having a job description bestowed upon you, you can instead take a collaborative approach to crafting your own job description.
Such an approach is known as job crafting, and it was popularised by Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton, academics from Yale and Michigan Universities resepectively. Their hope is that employees will eventually take a much bigger role in creating their own job descriptions.
It will see employees add various tasks and responsibilities to their job descriptions that match up closely with their particular interests and their personal values. It requires each individual to look at their work environment and analyse what tasks are needed, and how they can contribute towards them.
In addition to outlining the tasks they believe they can contribute to, job crafting requires each employee to create a development plan for themselves that will allow them to complete these tasks effectively and efficiently.
This change therefore turns the job description into something more akin to a personal plan that is created collaboratively between employee and their boss. Doesn’t that sound much better?
If you’d like to give job crafting a go, Professors Wrzesniewski and Dutton have created a job crafting exercise to help you on your way. The exercise asks you to create an image of how you’re currently devoting your time and energy at work. You then create a second diagram that will reflect how your job will change in the future.
You can read a pdf that explains more about the process here. Give it a go and post up your feedback below.