How Job Descriptions Can Help Build Role Clarity

Successfully communicating expectations to employees about their responsibilities is a critical part of establishing accountability and improving performance. However, it is just as important to communicate which tasks are not part of an employee’s role. Research shows that confusion about one’s responsibilities at work is associated with decreased job performance[1] and greater workload[2]. As a result, this can lead to additional stress and fatigue as employees take on more work than they should. Conversely, greater role clarity is associated with improved performance, greater job satisfaction, and increased commitment to the organization[3]. One effective way of improving role clarity is to develop comprehensive job descriptions that clearly communicate the boundaries of an employee’s role in the company.

Tips for Developing Clear Job Descriptions

A well-developed job description is a key resource for employees to understand their role and its responsibilities. Although developing a job description can be difficult, below we provide a few tips on how to tackle the development process.

1. Conduct a job analysis

A good job description covers all critical aspects of a role. However, in reality, most jobs are complex and important components can be overlooked if a thorough job analysis is not conducted. A job analysis is a systematic investigation of the tasks required to perform a role, including the knowledge, skills, and abilities that an individual must possess to complete these tasks. Help from an experienced career analyst can improve your results. For instance, external succession consultants are familiar with a variety of job analysis techniques and have access to important information that can supplement job analysis. They also tend to produce more unbiased results, as they are not personally invested in the way the role is described.

2. Cross-reference with comparable positions

Throughout the development process, you should frequently compare the job description to those of similar roles. It’s critical that your job descriptions distinguish between comparable positions in the company. This is because conflicts that arise from roles with overlapping responsibilities have a substantial negative impact on performance, just as much as confusion about one’s responsibilities. As a result, these conflicts can lead to misunderstandings and friction between employees.

3. Write for a broad audience

An effective job description is detailed enough so that the reader, regardless of their familiarity with the role, can understand the major duties and tasks involved. In other words, you should avoid technical language and jargon that can unnecessarily confuse readers. Consider asking individuals in your company who don’t have contact with the role in question to review your work for clarity.

4. Strike a balance between comprehensive and digestible

Make sure the job description communicates the major duties of the position. Minor duties that are less important or only rarely enacted aren’t required in the job analysis. Remember, the job description should give a broad overview of the role, and it is not necessary to list every task and responsibility an employee might be asked to undertake. Instead, it should include examples of day-to-day activities and duties without focusing on irregular or highly infrequent tasks. In short, an effective job description outlines a job’s core components without unnecessary detail.

Broadening the Application of Your Job Descriptions

Following the tips above can help you develop job descriptions that can do more than improve role clarity in your company. For example, a well-developed job description can be an essential tool in recruiting high-quality succession candidates to your organization. Additionally, they provide a realistic preview of what it’s like to work in that position, thereby communicating the company’s honesty about the employee experience in their workplace.

A good job description can be critical to the hiring process, as it contains information on the major duties and tasks that an individual must be able to perform in that position, but also outlines the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary that can be used to distinguish between applicants. You can also use job descriptions to design applicable interview questions and scoring criteria for candidates.

Remember, the job description is a document that you should regularly review and update for all employees. Finally, in order to get the most from your job descriptions, plan to review them annually and update as needed.

How SIGMA Can Help You Create Effective Job Descriptions

At SIGMA, our experienced succession planning consultants can help you create effective job descriptions from start to finish. We have experience with a wide variety of methods for developing job descriptions, and our LeaderBase contains details to ensure your job descriptions are comprehensive and up to industry standards. For additional information, contact us and learn more about how we can help your company plan for the future.

[1] Gilboa, S., Shirom, A., Fried, Y., & Cooper, C. (2008). A meta‐analysis of work demand stressors and job performance: examining main and moderating effects. Personnel Psychology, 61(2), 227-271.

[2] Bowling, N. A., Alarcon, G. M., Bragg, C. B., & Hartman, M. J. (2015). A meta-analytic examination of the potential correlates and consequences of workload. Work & Stress, 29(2), 95-113.

[3] Bauer, T. N., Bodner, T., Erdogan, B., Truxillo, D. M., & Tucker, J. S. (2007). Newcomer adjustment during organizational socialization: a meta-analytic review of antecedents, outcomes, and methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 707-721.