Writing a Job Description: The Game-Changing Template You Need NOW
Use a Great Performance Profile to Define a Great Performer
Apart from hiring unnecessarily, the biggest recruitment mistake an organisation can make is not knowing what a Great Performer looks like. Often this means that they mis-hire, fire and repeat!
<span class="grey-callout">A Great Performance Profile – a description of precise competencies and Measurable Outcomes – avoids these sorts of problems. It says to staff: “If you meet these expectations, and only these, then we will consider you to be doing an amazing job and to be a Great Performer.”</span>
Don’t Use Job Descriptions
Job descriptions outlining the duties of a particular role are often used in the recruitment process.
Many of them suffer from the same sorts of problems:
- They are too vague and generic and don’t identify the key responsibilities and skills. Worse still, even a Poor Performer could meet them! For example, “strong general management skills” has little meaning and therefore little benefit.
- They don’t prioritise what is most important. Instead, they list lots of skills and experiences as “essential”. Paraphrasing Patrick Lenocini (2010), “If everything is essential, then nothing is essential.”
- They contain jargon and corporate clichés which make it harder to understand what the organisation actually wants. Recently I read a job description with supporting documents three times before giving up and asking the employer what it all meant. Their response was common “I don’t know!”
- They quickly go out of date. When they are “updated”, little thought is given to whether the role still adds value for the customer, how it might evolve and, given a changing labour market, whether the “right” person actually exists. For example I recently read a job description where the employee would get “share ownership” and “profit share”. But when I enquired specifically how this would be calculated, I was told the document was out of date and those points were irrelevant!
I successfully recruited mortgage brokers over many years because I had a great understanding of companies’ requirements. One company was growing quickly so they brought in a consultant to draft job descriptions. What followed was a nightmare! The documents were long and vague. Employees could barely understand their role but carried on regardless. Managers found it difficult to hold employees accountable because the job descriptions were so unclear. The business culture suffered and eventually the job descriptions were ditched – as was the consultant!
A Great Performance Profile – a description of precise competencies and Measurable Outcomes – avoids these sorts of problems. It says to staff: “If you meet these expectations, and only these, then we will consider you to be doing an amazing job and to be a Great Performer.”
Great Performance Profiles are Better Than Job Descriptions
You may be thinking that a Great Performance Profile sounds like a thorough job description in itself – and you would be partly correct:
- However, I prefer to use the word “performance” to emphasise that tasks can be completed in many different ways (e.g. through automation and outsourcing), not just by filling a role as the term “job description” implies.
- Also, I use the word “great” to remind everyone that we don’t want good or poor.
- I use the term “profile” because the document goes beyond defining a Great Performer in the context of a recruitment process. The Measurable Outcomes make it easier to benchmark all staff and to hold them accountable. This helps during the induction period, reiterating to new staff why they were hired and the standards expected. With clearly defined outcomes, employees can self-manage, knowing what to focus on and whether they are meeting the desired standard. Finally, managers can use the profile for training, performance management and promotion.
A Great Performance Profile is more than just a fancy name for an enhanced job description. It solves many of the limitations of regular job descriptions. Let’s look at an example.
Example of a Great Performance Profile
Before we go any further and describe in detail how to draw up your own Great Performance Profile, I want to show you what one looks like. The profile below is for a hypothetical sales position. (You may notice a column titled “MAS” with numbers indicating a competencies importance, I explain more about this below on "Step 4"). Feel free to adapt it as a template, but don’t copy it – your business, sales, standards and requirements will differ from this example:
<div class="is-email"><p>GREAT PERFORMANCE PROFILE: SALES PERSON</p><p>MISSION FOR POSITION<br>We need high-performing sales people to develop new business, nurture repeat customers and provide a great service.</p><p>FIRST PARAGRAPH CONTENT GOES HERE</p><p>KEY SELECTION CRITERIA</p></div>
1. Meets key competencies. A positive and money-motivated attitude is critical.
2. A proven business-to-business (B2B) sales track record is desirable, preferably selling high-volume items.
Specifically, we do NOT want the following:
● Highly experienced sales people with lots of consultative sales experience who are not adaptable to following our process.
MEASURABLE OUTCOMES FOR A GREAT PERFORMER
Sales Minimum Acceptable Standard (MAS)
> 1 month 1 Two or more sales
1-2 months 1 One or more sales per week
2-3 months 1 Two or more sales per week
3-4 months 1 Earned discretionary bonus
4-6 months 1 Consistently earned discretionary bonus, passed probation
6-12 months 2 More than £3,000 gross profit per month
12-24 months 2 More than £5,000 gross profit per month
Minimum new business gross profit 10%
Minimum 20% up-sell
Minimum call duration 120 minutes per day3
Minimum average call duration 4 minutes
24+ months 2 More than £8,000 gross profit per month
KEY COMPETENCIES OF A GREAT PERFORMER
Competency Description MAS
Integrity/trustworthy Iron clad. Does not cut corners ethically. Earns trust of co-workers. Puts the organisation above self-interest. 13
Intrinsically motivated/independent worker Able to work productively in a remote environment, staying focused and undistracted. Constantly searching for sales leads and makes a high quantity of quality outbound sales calls. 8
Ambitious Desires to be successful in life. Goal motivated, always striving to have and achieve more and constantly setting challenging objectives. 8
Performer Persuasive and convincing in selling. Prioritises telephone calls where they can influence a sale rather than relying on emails. 8
Enthusiasm/passion Exhibits dynamism, excitement and a positive can-do attitude that is infectious and creates confidence in customers. 8
Energy/drive Shows energy and dedication. Treats every sales call like it may be their last. 8
Conformist/coachable Consistently follows our sales process and standards. Doesn’t deviate from the sales script by ad-libbing or going into consultative sales. Willing to unlearn bad habits and able to improve. Doesn’t need to be continually reminded of past issues. 13
Excellence Sets high stretch standards of performance for themselves. Low tolerance of mediocrity. Big sense of responsibility. 8
Tenacity Consistently strives to achieve results. Conveys a strong need to win. Reputation for not giving up and not taking no for an answer. 8
Organisation/planning Metric and activity-driven. Plans, organises and schedules efficiently. Focuses on the key priorities of new business sales and up-selling. 5
Self-awareness/feedback Recognises own strengths and weaknesses. Not defensive. Does not rationalise mistakes or blame others. Uses feedback mechanisms. 8
Customer focus Treats every customer like a unique individual. Monitors customer satisfaction. Is visible and accessible to clients. 5
Communications (oral) Communicates well one-on-one. Fluent, quick on their feet, good command of language. Keeps people informed. 8
Communications (written) Writes clear, precise, well-organised documents using appropriate vocabulary and grammar. 5
Team player Reaches out to colleagues. Approachable. Leads peers to do what is best for the company. 5
Specifically, we do NOT need the following competencies:
● Intellect. Candidate does not need to acquire and absorb information rapidly.
● Education. Candidate does not need to have higher education.
● Creativity. Candidate does not need to create new approaches.
How to Create a Great Performance Profile
To create your own Great Performance Profile, I recommend the following steps:
- Assemble your Recruitment Team.
- List Measurable Outcomes.
- Consider competencies.
- Set Minimum Acceptable Standards for each competency.
- Conduct a sanity check!
Let's look at each of these in more detail.
<div class="navy-callout"><p>An editable template of a Great Performance Profile is available at www.starget.co.uk/book</p></div>
Step 1: Assemble your Recruitment Team
If you follow no other advice, then follow this: never allow one person to make a hiring decision.
Never allow one person to make a hiring decision
Two or more heads are always better than one, for two reasons:
- Other people may have a different view of candidates’ backgrounds and interview answers. Combined, you’ll gain a more rounded perspective on your applicants, which will help you hire the right people.
- Above all, having more than one person doing the hiring reduces the effect of unconscious bias where managers favour candidates who remind them of themselves, make a decision in the first few moments of an interview and then spend the rest of the hiring process confirming their bias. As the economist John Maynard Keynes said, “Most people, when confronted with a choice of changing their thoughts or proving there is no need to change, get busy on the proof.”
I’ve seen many managers attempting to hire on their own make the following mistakes:
- Being too willing to compromise out of sheer desperation – this is only natural because they feel the pain of not filling a role.
- Wanting to hire clones of themselves and “like-minded individuals” rather than those suited to the job, which can ruin the balance of a team and perpetuate bad habits.
- Hiring a friend and potentially compromising quality and objectivity.
- Being unable to make a decision because they don’t have enough experience and lack confidence.
- Justifying their bad recruitment decisions by giving inaccurate appraisals, thus prolonging the damage being done to the business.
- Not wanting to hire Great Performers because of a concern that they may be superseded.
Include the right people in your Recruitment Team
I recommend that your Recruitment Team has no more than five members. After this, you may start to run into diminishing returns because:
- It will be difficult to diarise appointments, which is especially bad in a fast-moving labour market.
- Having too many people involved in recruitment tasks may disrupt your core business.
- It might become difficult to determine who’s responsible for what and to hold everyone accountable.
Where possible your Recruitment Team should include:
- Senior leadership. They can’t abdicate responsibility for successful recruitment. They’re needed to set the tone, provide valuable insights and show that recruitment decisions are taken seriously, plus they have the final say on approving or rejecting candidates.
- The line manager. They’re familiar with the job so are able to provide unique insights and uncover things that others can’t. Also, they have a direct stake in ensuring that the new employee is a success, otherwise they’ll suffer the consequences!
- A cross-functional interviewer. They can provide an unbiased and independent assessment to maintain hiring quality and cultural fit. This is particularly important if a firm is experiencing strong growth and can’t afford to compromise on quality.
- HR. They should be involved in all hiring, especially for senior positions. Their experience means they’re better able than most to determine a good fit and can make a great contribution to the overall recruitment process.
Including a junior employee or peer in a Recruitment Team can be a good test of a potential manager and sends out a positive message. However, I wouldn’t recommend involving them in the screening and interview process because:
- Their perspective may be influenced by concerns about extra workload, and they may have a conflict of interest if they’re seeking internal promotion.
- They might not be experienced at distinguishing a Poor Performer from a Great Performer.
- They might prefer to hire people they think they’ll get along with on a personal level, irrespective of skills or experience.
- Confidential discussions may need to take place above their level of seniority.
If you do involve junior employees or peers on the Interview Team, ensure that you make it clear in advance that, while you value their opinion, they don’t have a veto.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> If your company is a start-up, you’ll need to be more involved in hiring decisions during the initial phases of recruitment. It may helpful to bring in a non-executive director or HR consultant to assist you. As standards become more established, you can relinquish control and set up a Recruitment Team as outlined above.</span>
Take the time now to assemble your Recruitment Team.
Step 2: List Measurable Outcomes
Work with the line manager and write specific Measurable Outcomes for a Great Performer.
Don’t make the mistake of listing activities, such as “make 100 sales calls per day”. Instead, come up with Measurable Outcomes, such as “make £10,000 in sales per month”.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to know how much detail to go into. Keep working on the list and ask , “Is that enough?” Then, curate your list so as to include only the outcomes that will deliver the most value – those that you’ll use to define a Great Performer. (Remember the 80/20 principle: 20% of outcomes will deliver 80% of value.)
Next, check whether an employee can directly influence outcomes and therefore be held solely accountable. Make ones that they can’t into group goals. For example, you may have the outcome of “increasing annual recurring revenue by 10%”, which many people rather than a single team member influence, so this makes an appropriate group goal.
For entry-level jobs, the Great Performance Profile typically includes one to five outcomes. For management and leadership, this increases to around 10 (any more than this may be unrealistic).
Review your outcomes and ensure that you’re talking about Great Performers. There’s a tendency to think about average performance. Resist this and consider the outcomes a Great Performer would achieve through their drive to succeed.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> Make sure your outcomes don’t require supernatural powers to achieve! Being unrealistic may put candidates off at interviews and lead to unnecessary confrontation when you’re performance managing staff.</span>
The right balance is to set outcomes that are stretching but realistic. A good technique is to break your annual targets into monthly and weekly ones and see if they look reasonable. Conversely, multiply your weekly or monthly targets to see what they imply for the year. Do they still seem realistic and achievable?
Step 3: Consider competencies
The next section of the Great Performance Profile lists the essential experience, skills and personality traits required to achieve desired outcomes. I refer to these collectively as competencies. Ask yourself, “What experience, skills and behaviours would a Great Performer need to meet expectations and fit in with our culture?”
If you’re struggling, look at the skills and behaviours of your existing Great Performers. You can also conduct research online. But don’t get bogged down in semantics. You’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of overlap between definitions and you can modify them for specific roles.
Points to consider:
- Is there career progression and, if so, what competencies might employees need to develop? While it’s acceptable for a role not to have any career progression, this may make it less appropriate for an ambitious Great Performer because you’ll want to keep them.
- Don’t go soft on managers. If you’re recruiting managers, they can’t always be everyone’s friend to get results. Employees may be putting in a lot of effort but if this doesn’t translate into good outcomes, what’s the point? You don’t want to hire a manager who your employees hate, but one who isn’t afraid of holding employees to high standards.
- Length of experience may be meaningless. Be careful about asking for a particular number of years of experience. Some people have a lot of experience but haven’t been challenged or given opportunities to grow. Such a requirement may also be considered discriminatory because it favours more experienced (i.e. older) over less experienced (i.e. younger) workers.
- Do you really need a graduate or a quick learner? Some employers insist on graduates but when pressed recognise that what they’re really looking for are people who have demonstrated an ability to learn and so are worth investing in through training. If you want a quick learner, don’t limit yourself to graduates. Recruiters at Google have stopped requesting grades because they found that academic performance wasn’t a great indicator of performance at work.Moreover, the fact is University is really a spring board to get practical experience. Therefore, it isn’t always necessary to require graduates with practical experience is more valuable.
- Graduate recruitment should be inclusive. Where someone studied should matter less than what they’ve accomplished. You might think that a graduate from a Russell Group or “red brick” university is a bonus, but don’t overlook people who’ve overcome hardship and are bright and hardworking.
- Could you offer training for an apprenticeship? An apprenticeship can be a cost-effective way to develop your workforce. Customised training can develop the specific skills and knowledge that are relevant to your business and make staff more productive. It also enhances diversity and can have a positive impact on your brand, giving you a reputation as a company that invests in the development of its workforce and in the local community.
- Sector specialists may not be the best. It’s understandable to think that sector experience helps new starters hit the ground running or reduces the amount of training required, but be mindful that what made them successful in the past may not make them successful with you. I’ve noticed this problem especially with sales roles, where previous success was often the result of a strong brand, product or marketing. And I’ve found that sector knowledge can be learnt.
Remove unnecessary and inappropriate competencies
Often, there’s a sense of excitement about finding the “perfect” person. However, frequently you end up searching for a fictitious person based on wishful thinking. Particularly in a competitive job market, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Go through each competency and ask yourself:
- If they don’t have this competency, could they still meet the outcomes?
- Could we train and develop someone to have this competency?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, then remove the competency.
Also, remove general requirements such as “punctual attendance” – these should be a given.
List competencies you don’t want
While it might seem odd to say what you don’t want, I find that this can help bring clarity. So, at the end of the Great Performance Profile, include competencies that are not necessary for the role. For example, in very procedure-driven businesses you probably don’t need someone who’s highly creative.
Also, list attitudes and behaviours you don’t want. Think of all the mis-hires you’ve made to inspire your thinking here!
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> If you’re completing a Great Performance Profile for a position that already exists, don’t just clone it. Instead, identify the skills and experience that may be required, even if the job title remains the same. You could redefine the role and add more value.</span>
Step 4: Set Minimum Acceptable Standards for each competency
Because not everything is of equal importance, write a Minimum Agreeable Standard next to each competency using a scale of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 13 (13 being most important).
Resist the temptation to mark all competencies as 8 or 13 as you’ll never find that perfect person. Equally, should competencies scoring 1, 2 or 3 really be an important part of your selection criteria?
Now rank all the competencies in descending order with 13 at the top followed by 8, 5 and so on.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Note:</span> You may have noticed my unusual way of scoring the Minimum Acceptable Standards using a scale of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 13. This is the Fibonacci Sequence, and the great thing about it is that the numbers are far enough apart that you can easily tell the difference between them. </span>
Most people make the mistake of using a five-point scale to rate someone: it’s actually really difficult for our brains to tell whether someone is a 4 or a 5. And with standard 10-point scales, the scores are so granular that teams find it difficult to reach a consensus.
Step 5: Conduct a sanity check!
Review your Great Performance Profile to reflect on what you’ve written and ask yourself, “Does this person really exist or am I asking too much?” More requirements mean less choice from what might be an already limited pool of talent. Consider:
- Local applicants. Are there enough applicants living locally or at least willing to commute? Even remote/hybrid workers may need to be close enough to you for training, meetings and socials. If nothing else, what time zones are acceptable?
- Competent applicants. Do enough local people have the competencies you require? Which competencies are going to be the hardest to find?
- Sector experience, if relevant. Do enough local and competent people have sector experience?
- Affordable applicants. Are you offering a competitive remuneration package for a local and competent person?
- Motivated applicants. Is an applicant more likely to accept your offer than that of a competing employer?
- Availability of applicants. Some sectors are cyclical. There are micro-cycles in accountancy and macro-cycles in sectors such as oil and gas that ebb and flow according to the health of the economy and political developments. Recruiting trainees and apprentices may also be subject to seasonality around exams. Are there enough local, competent, affordable and motivated applicants at the moment?
- Competition for applicants. There may be lots of employers all trying to attract similar applicants. Don’t just think of your direct competitors. Also consider indirect competition, for example if you’re on an industrial estate many employers may want applicants with similar skills. Are those other employers better at attracting applicants, then fast enough to make a job offer before you can?
The Venn diagram below shows the problem that most employers face:
<div class="grey-callout"><p><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> I see more employers fail to recruit because they want previous industry experience than almost any other reason.</p><p>Industry experience is often most requested for sales and marketing roles in the naïve hope they’ll bring past customers. However, these individuals have a good understanding of the competitive landscape, and so probably know all about your business, warts and all. Consequently you need to be an outstanding employer, often with a differentiated competitive advantage, to recruit those within your industry.</p><p>Another fundamental problem is there may not be anyone in your area. A quick way to test this is to use Google Maps: locate your office; zoom out to cover a reasonable commuting distance; then search within that area for companies in your industry. If you only find a handful, that is a reasonable indication there aren’t that many competitors to poach from.</p></div>
What they’re looking for is the area in the middle where all the circles overlap. Fewer requirements mean a bigger overlap and more choice.
Fewer requirements mean a bigger overlap and more choice.
If the overlap is small, you could try the following:
- Remove the requirement for sector experience, because many people have transferable skills.
- Reduce the number of competencies by giving training.
- Adapt the role so that you don’t require difficult-to-find competencies.
- Use remote staff. While locality is fixed and relocation challenging for some roles, others can be staffed with remote workers, though just because you can hire from anywhere doesn’t mean you should. I’ve found it better to recruit locally because it makes coordinating physical meetings cheaper and easier. The main exception to this is where there’s a hotbed of specific talent in a particular location.
- Increase the advertising budget to reach more applicants.
- Offer a more competitive remuneration package, while being aware you may cause internal issues that will need resolving in the immediate future. You may have to pay a lot more if you aren’t willing to compromise on job requirements, and this may have an impact on existing pay grades.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> Sometimes stakeholders in a business ask for too much. Often they are politically too powerful or stubborn enough you can’t negotiate with them. My recommendation is give a reality check, advertise the job with their long list of demands. When you receive no suitable applicants, tactfully demonstrate what you’ve learnt and help them understand that the situation will not change or improve unless the list of requirements is more realistic.</span>