HR Consulting

Why are Position Descriptions A Lot Like Politicians?



I probably don’t need to spend too much time convincing you that they are both pretty boring as far as topics of conversation go, but you may need a little more convincing that they (position descriptions at least), are necessary.

Put simply, a position description is a document which outlines the key purpose, relationships and responsibilities of an individual role within the business. In most cases it also details the skills and experience that would be required of a person in order to competently perform the role.

So just what goes into a well-written position description and why are they important for your business?

In terms of their benefits, position descriptions (or job descriptions as they are sometimes referred to) provide:

  • an opportunity to consider and ultimately be clear about important aspects of all positions within the business, including reporting relationships, key task requirements and expectations relating to behaviour/attitude;
  • a good safeguard for you and your business in the event of grievances, disputes, claims of unfair dismissal etc…;
  • clarity for staff and supervisors around just who does what within your business, therein reducing confusion and also providing opportunity for greater efficiency and ultimately profit;
  • opportunity to reduce the risk of non-compliance with employment-related legislation including Work Health and Safety;
  • a sound basis for recruitment and selection, ensuring you get the right person for the job based on their mix of skills, qualifications, experience and demonstrated behaviours/attitudes, and;
  • a sound basis for effective performance review and training and development.

As for content, position descriptions will often include:

  • basic job details: title, department/unit and reporting relationships (both in terms of which role the position reports to, and which other roles report to it);
  • a brief job summary, including the essential purpose of the job;
  • details of who the job-holder will be expected to interact with (internal and external to the business), and the nature of those interactions;
  • essential skills, experience and qualifications (including licences etc…) required of the job-holder – the “must haves”;
  • desirable skills, experience and qualifications – the “nice to haves”;
  • the key functions and responsibilities/accountabilities of the position, together with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or some other statement that clearly indicates how you will determine/measure/know that the job-holder is performing as required (NOTE: try to ensure the position description reflects broader functions and responsibilities rather than detailed tasks – you don’t want to have to update the document every time a task changes);
  • key behaviours expected in performance of the role (HOW do you expect them to do the job – eg. courtesy, respect, focus on continuous improvement, teamwork etc…);
  • other expectations relating to compliance with specific policies and procedures including, for example, health and safety and code of conduct;
  • details of unique job requirements/conditions of employment (eg. requirement to be placed on a weekend work roster, wear a uniform or work in confined spaces or otherwise demanding conditions), and;
  • provision for signature of the position holder and supervisor.

Of course, the benefits of position descriptions will only be apparent if they are kept up-to-date (an annual review process, generally tied into an annual performance review, is recommended). Where possible, they should also be developed/reviewed in consultation with position holders, be readily-available to staff and directly linked to recruitment, performance management and training and development activities.

Position descriptions: a bit boring, yes, but also necessary in terms of optimising business outcomes.

Email for a complimentary copy of our Position Description template, complete with guidance notes

Greg Mitchell,