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Barriers to Resilience Part One - Traditional Job Descriptions

This is the first of a short series of blogs looking at the various barriers to resilience in teams and in this first blog I want to highlight the pros and cons of official job descriptions.

Let me say at the onset that I am not against job descriptions as I see that they are a first crucial step in ensuring that an organisation not only gets the right person for the role but that they ensure that the employee starts to get clarity and understanding as to what their new role entails and what is expected of them. This starts to build resilience in the employee as clarity and understanding in everything we do is vital if people are to maintain motivation and focus. There are several challenges that can arise with job descriptions:

  1. They can limit creativity and innovation, particularly if employees are being strictly held to the contents of their job description. I remember highlighting to a Head of Training that it was apparent that despite 'Teamwork' being one of the company's key values (and highlighted on literature, posters, websites), the company actually lacked the capability to develop teamwork in all of its constituent teams. Nothing was being done to promote effective teamwork and given my experience in teams this was something I could lead on so that we could develop this competency across the organisation and actually say the company was true to its values. I was simply told it was not a priority and it was not in my job description as a sales trainer. One enlightened manager agreed with me about the need to develop the capability and we did some great work together with their team. However, I was challenged on doing this work and never given any recognition officially as it was outside the scope of my official job description and agreed objectives. I did try to get this added to my objectives but the request was refused as it 'detracted me' from my core job. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Here we had a manager who managed via the official job description and showed no flexibility around the core job description despite the actual needs of the organisation. Now you might say that this is the problem of how the manager operated, not the job description, and I would agree with you to an extent, but there was no flexibility from HR to allow managers and employees to go beyond the 'limits' of the company's job description in this instance - or so I was told! If we are to build resilience in employees and teams we need to allow them to be flexible around their core job description and the original agreed objectives. An employee's objectives should not be 'set in stone' and should be flexible so that they are able to respond quickly to ideas, challenges and events that can occur ever more frequently in our ever changing world.

  2. Job Descriptions can inhibit flexibility and be used by employees to reinforce their 'comfort zone' There was a time when the team I was managing was under pressure for results and as such we had to show real flexibility in how we operated. The situation called for a change of direction and tactics, and as a result, in order to succeed, we needed to change some of the objectives that everyone in the team had including myself as the manager. Most of the team were flexible and relished the challenge but there were a couple of team members who were very resistant to change despite my (and the rest of the team) highlighting the benefits to the individuals concerned and reassuring them that every support would be put in place in order for them to succeed. I was confronted with comments like 'it's not my bag'. 'it's not in my measures' and 'it's not in my job description'. In discussions with HR we managed to flex around the job descriptions in some aspects but not in others and as a result several of the team members (the more capable and resilient ones) agreed to take on extra in order that the team achieved its goals. This caused conflict and division in the team which had a huge negative impact on trust levels. A lot of this resistance was due to fear as a result of previous experiences in other companies but also on the fact that the measurement of each team member was purely on an individual basis with no team measurement in place.

If we are to build resilience in both individuals and teams then we need to make sure job descriptions are specific to each role but also to ensure that they are not 'set in stone'. There should be flexibility built into the system in that if a team member has to go beyond their official job description then this is documented and included in the team member's objectives for that particular work period. Job descriptions and objectives 'documents' have to be dynamic and updated regularly and should reflect that actual work that a team member is doing on behalf of the team. Review is critical and team members need not only to be supported to keep on track but also fully recognised for the great work that they do.

I know that many organisations are now starting to manage expectations around jobs and their 'descriptions' right at interview level so that nay new employees recognise that whilst the job description is a strong guide to what will be expected there may be other responsibilities that may occur as a result of changing 'landscapes'. This is to be applauded but this needs to be more widespread than it is at present if they are to continue to employ resilient people and also continue to build resilience across the organisation.

The key, though, to making job descriptions work for the individual, the team and the organisation is excellent management and leadership. Good managers will always use the job description as a 'guide' and will be able to influence and manage effectively their key senior stakeholders (including HR) to ensure that any work taken on outside the job description is support, recognised and rewarded.

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