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Position Descriptions-should your business use them?

In the wake of streamlining business processes, some traditional HR documents also seem to be falling by the wayside. One of these is the Position Description (PD): a formal document describing the key responsibilities, objectives and outcomes of a specific role.

I’m often asked my opinion which employment documents a small to medium sized business really needs. When I include Position Descriptions in my list of must haves, I’m met with responses from both sides of the fence. Here’s an abbreviated version of both sides of the story and my reasoning why you might consider sticking with these old school HR favourites…albeit with a tad of tailoring to suit your business.

The case against PD’s:

  • in today’s rapidly changing workplace environment, a position description can become dated quickly and it’s time consuming to keep each document current
  • the traditional PD cannot list every responsibility of a position
  • relying solely on a PD during the interview process can often limit perspective of your candidate’s potential and capabilities

The case for PD’s

  • a well written PD clearly defines performance and role expectations and provides an objective basis of measuring job performance
  • provides an essential reference tool in issues of employee/employer dispute and counselling and discipline issues
  • enables concise recruitment advertising through an up to date list of role responsibilities

So what’s right for you? Here’s a few factors to contemplate:

  • with a rising trend in unfair dismissal applications and an industrial environment that often appears to favour the employee, a PD forms one part of your employment tool arsenal: use it to your advantage in managing your risk
  • Position Descriptions don’t have to be lengthy, overly complex or time consuming to keep up to date…they simply have to accurately describe the key responsibilities of the role and the qualifications and relative experience of the candidate you seek. If your HR function runs well and you have low levels of employee turnover, you’re not going to be issuing and updating PD’s frequently anyway!
  • in your interview process, focus not only on technical ability but potential cultural fit. Have some flexibility in your assessment and interview questioning process and look outside the square a little, particularly if you also value creativity and innovation from your workforce.

Position Descriptions are one tool available to a business… they’re not the be all and end all of everything and should not be relied on as your sole employment document. But if they help you manage risk, to recruit more effectively and to clarify your performance expectations – in other words, the benefits outweigh the downsides- they’re well worth considering.


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