Silly. Un-needed. Harmful at times. They not worth the paper they are written on.
Read on for why!
(1) They are always out of date
They are always out of date as they are always written down. Anything that is written down tends to be written done once, once anything is written down for some reason people treat it as more important or more truthful than mere spoken words, so once it is written change becomes harder. So, written once, written for a long time, meaning no matter how well thought through, how accurate, it can only reflect the time in which it was written, anything new or anything outside of the frame of reference of the time in which it was written, will not be in a job description.
This person is never out of date.
(2) They are a plan for your job.
They tell you what you are going to do, what you are for, what is expected of you. I.e They are a plan for your future in that job role. As a plan, it has all the drawbacks of a plan drawn up in an organisational setting. For example the person writing it generally isn’t the person who does the job so there are guesses in them, best estimates of what people do or might do, but these are guesses and estimates that once written down become more of a truth (see point one above) so any change becomes harder. As a “plan for a job” it also is about what people think the job should be or could be, not necessarily what it is. A job description will not include all the meetings you go to, the daily re-doing of work from somewhere else in your system or your own work that is passed on unclean and then passed back to you. A “plan for your job” never includes “re-do your or someone elses work” but that is a substantial amount of a lot of peoples jobs, it just isn’t in their job description.
Like other plans, people may refer to them to decide what to do if they encounter something outside of the normal day to day. Referring to a piece of paper written by someone else ages ago to find out what should be done right now by the person doing the job.
God damn, it’s got to be in here somewhere.
I can hear people, certain people anyway, saying “ah, but how would you advertise or interview for a post then?”. Dead simple, advertise and interview for a post. Just without an old out of date badly drawn up piece of paper. I’m no HR expert, but there’ll be alternatives to that surely!
(3) They commodify people
Imagine you are at work and ask someone for something, help or information or something small or big, and they say it isn’t in their job description. How lovely, you think. Someone who pays heed to and follows their job description to better deliver what they are here to do. No you wouldn’t, you’d despise them for their unhelpful nature.
Following a job description to the letter is a form of industrial action called “working to rule”, it is designed to cause disruption and harm to the workings of an organisation. Job descriptions are a useful aide to harming work. Read that again and savour it slowly. A job description if followed can harm work. How odd, when all it is supposed to do is describe and define a job. A job description is a part of your contract of work. A contract that if followed harms work. It bears repeating I think.
This man here talks more and better about how working with people is not a transaction to be conducted, but a relationship, and all relationships work better when they are conducted with people rather than with an old out of date badly drawn up piece of paper. Go read it, especially my intelligent and clear sighted comment at the bottom. It takes a few minutes then come back for the best bit.
(4) The best bit
So whats the best bit? What could possibly replace an old out of date badly drawn up piece of paper? You’ve already met them.
This person can tell you what you need to do, whether an internal or external customer, they’ll know best what needs to be done. There are plenty of them, they come right up to you and ask for things, they do it in the here and now and will work with you on making sure you understand what it is they really need. Ditch job descriptions, you can only serve one master, and an old out of date badly drawn up piece of paper should be nobodies master