There are few things I am more averse to in the HR sphere than a job description. At one time ubiquitous, I am now optimistic about the fact that they will shortly become a dying breed. And no one will celebrate their demise more than I will.

In its very simplest term, a job description is a list of areas of ownership and responsibility for each post within an organisation. Now, don’t get me wrong: there are some merits in this. Effective organisational design depends on each person fully understanding the tasks they should be working on and the level of autonomy and decision making that they have. I don’t think anyone is going to argue with that.

A typical job description

If we take a look, though, at a typical job description. It will likely run from a minimum of one side of A4 paper to something approaching a short novel – I have seen some public sector “role profiles” which have been in excess of twenty pages.

Within that, there will likely be an overall statement of job purpose, and then a series of statements which outline everything that a job holder could possibly be expected to carry out within their role. Not forgetting, of course, the classic statement of “Ad hoc duties as requested by management”. Which effectively renders the whole job description null and void: what that statement tells me is that, frankly, you’re going to be doing whatever you get told to do!

Time and purpose

Now, let’s suppose just for a moment that the job description itself does serve a useful purpose. If it’s detailed enough, it is not unreasonable that it might provide a relatively descriptive guide for a new post holder in regards to where their focus could be.

Such a document, therefore, going into such a level of detail, is arguably going to take somewhere between 1-3 hours to write, dependent on its length and complexity. For it to remain relevant, it’s going to need to be updated annually as a bare minimum.

Let’s take a typical organisation of 1,000 people, which has perhaps 250 roles across the business. Working on the above premise, we’re talking around 500 hours per annum – that’s close to 15 weeks of the year for one person – to keep those job descriptions relevant and up to date.

15 weeks of the year. Not that far off a third of your total working time. And sure, one can argue that these job descriptions, when well written, can help your organisation to deliver.

An agile approach

But imagine what else you could be doing with those 15 weeks to help your organisation to deliver. You could be out coaching and training your managers to achieve better results from their teams. You could be working with team members to increase engagement levels and drive productivity. You could be reviewing your organisational design and making frequent adjustments which will slightly change the scope of the work of individuals or teams to better allow you to deliver against your business goals.

Because, in today’s rapidly evolving and changing world of industry, the very best organisations need to be agile enough to respond to that change and retain their competitive advantage. Last week we might need an individual to carry out tasks A through to M… but this week we might need them to lose tasks A-E, and to add tasks N, O, P and Q to their remit instead. A rigid job description might form a direct barrier to us being able to achieve what we need to get done.

Historically, the production of job descriptions has been a time-consuming process which has provided both employer and employee with a tool to beat each other over the head with. The job description has been an attempt at a sticking plaster to make up for the communication which should be taking place between manager and team members in regards to their areas of ownership and responsibilities.

As the world of work continues to evolve, see this as your opportunity to lose the job descriptions, and invest that time on driving real value within your business. One (or twenty!) pieces of paper won’t lead to your employees delivering results. Spending time with, talking to, coaching, and communicating with your employees… that, right there, is what will lead to them delivering results. Ensuring our focus is in the right place when it comes to how we use our time can result in transformational change for the better.