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Making sure staff know their position and purpose within your business

July 5, 2016

Red tape… compliance… ticking boxes… costly… time consuming… frustrating… not my job!

Be honest, when you think about HR (Human Resources) in your business, are these the kind of phrases that first spring to mind?

If you ask any small business owner what frustrates them in their company, most will include HR and talk about problems with their staff. They will tell you about people who fail to do what they are supposed to do or what they say they will do! They will bemoan the fact that people constantly ‘let them down’. This is what they relate HR with… and blame HR for!

However, HR does not have to be like this.

Imagine you could get people to do what they are supposed to do and to the standard you need – wouldn’t that make your life as a small business owner easier? Would that add value to your business? Would it free up your time so you could concentrate on other aspects of your business?

Well it is possible – not easy – but possible!

The secret is to tell people, clearly, what you expect from them. This may sound obvious, but you may be surprised how often this doesn’t happen.

Start with a clear Job Description

Small businesses can be guilty of assuming that employees know what is expected of them through some kind of telepathy.

One of the key documents to help employees is a job description. But not just a list of duties. No, make it a document that can really help the employee understand the purpose and outcomes you are looking for.

The job description needs to make clear ‘what makes a good day’, because if you don’t tell them, they will decide for themselves.

Employees also need to understand how they ‘fit into the whole’; how what they do impacts and affects others. If they have this understanding then they can take this into consideration when doing their job. They will need to work and co-operate with others if they are to do the best job.

But what makes a good Job Description?

Traditionally job descriptions have been little more than a list of duties that an employee is required to perform.

While this helps the employee to know what they should be doing, it does nothing to help them know what standard of work is expected, how they will be measured or what their ultimate purpose is within the business as a whole.

7 Job Description essentials

Job descriptions are not easy to write. They require a lot of thought and consideration. Not just about the particular job but also how the position fits in with other positions in the department and Company.

But let’s face it, if you as the business owner cannot document what you expect from an employee in a job description, what chance has an employee got of getting it right!

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So here are seven areas you need to consider:

1. General information

This would include hours of work, who the position reports to, location etc.

2. Purpose

Describe the overall purpose of the job. Why do you have this position? What is its overall outcome you are looking for?

3. Tasks / duties

Yes this can be the traditional list of duties – BUT also document what standards you want and how you will measure this.

For example ‘answering the telephone’ may be a task, but you can also confirm how you want the phone to be answered.

You could refer to your Company standard telephone answering or detail this, e.g. calls answered in 3 rings, answered in a polite, friendly and helpful tone, messages taken accurately and passed on within 5 minutes.

4. Focus – Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

You want people to concentrate on the right things – not what they ‘like to do’ and to encourage this you can set out some Key Performance Indicators. These will be different for different positions and will take some thinking about.

For people in the accounts team, this might be around issuing invoices and collecting money with an agreed time. For drivers, this may include the number of deliveries and miles per gallon achieved (this can then affect driving style and a reduction in fuel cost can be significant for transport companies).

5. Consequences

Tell people what the consequences are if they do not achieve the KPI. For example, failure to send out invoices or collect money will affect cash flow.

In the worst case scenario this could ultimately lead to the closure of the business (I know this sounds dramatic, but cash flow is the heart of many organisations – so tell people how important it is).

Answering the phone poorly can give a negative impression and could lead to a lost opportunity. Failure to pass on messages can have the same affect.

6. How the position fits in

You may want to refer to other documents like an organisational chart and/ or outline what other positions or departments the position has to co-operate / work with.

7. Reporting

You can then get people to report on their Key Performance Indicators. This will give them further focus and give you a snap shot of how things are going. Where KPI’s are not being achieved, you can ask more questions.

A well-defined job description also acts as the starting point in managing an individual’s performance. If you are unclear about someone’s job role and employees don’t know how they are being measured (and what makes a good day), how can you then say they are not performing?

The Beautiful Game

So let’s look at how job descriptions work in a different environment – football.

In a football team, all the players know exactly what position they play. They may be a forward or the goalkeeper. They know what their purpose is – to score goals or to save goals.

And because they know the purpose of their position, they know how they will be measured – by how many goals they score (or for the goalie, how many they save). So players know how they will be measured and how well they are performing.

They also know how they contribute to the team and the consequences of moving out of position. No one will thank the goalie who runs up the pitch to try and score a goal, leaving the goal undefended.

And finally, the player who does not perform is quickly identified and can find themselves on the transfer list!

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by HR expert and author, Paula Fisher. Her book, ‘HR for SMEs‘ (published by PracticalHR)  is available to buy from online retailers including Amazon and to order from all good bookstores (£9.99 paperback, £4.99 ebook). For more information visit PracticalHR.co.uk.

More help on managing and motivating staff

You can find lots more insight and ideas on how to manage, motivate and reward staff in these other ByteStart guides;

And for guidance on other employment issues, try some of these guides;