Companies go through so much pain to hire the best and brightest (at least good ones do) and when they find the one after spending countless hours interviewing many, they give them a position description that can be more or less translated to “We don’t really care what value you can add to our business. All we really expect from you is the following bullet points.”. This is not all on employers. A lot of employees demand a position description if not given one!

Here’s a few questions I’ve heard and conversations I’ve had over the years.

How can I do performance reviews without a position description?

You should NOT do performance reviews. Performance reviews are negative, intimidating and harmful. What you should do instead is regular informal catch ups with your team. We are humans. We don’t need an annual process. We can talk.

When you’re unhappy with the performance of a team member, you shouldn’t wait a year to tell them. As you wait longer, the under performance or the bad behaviour rubs on you; so you get (passive) aggressive towards them, and that becomes a mutual interaction over time which makes them and you less happy and productive. Instead talk with them as soon as you see a problem and work with them to fix it.

Likewise, when a team member does something great, don’t wait a year to tell them. Tell them straightaway so they know their good work is seen and acknowledged.

But how can I do pay reviews if I am not doing performance reviews?

One thing that is worse than annual performance reviews is tying salary review to it.

Without a position description, I don’t know what my manager expects from me!

Really?! When was the last time you read your PD? More importantly, when was the last time you talked to your manager and asked her how you are going and if there are things you can improve on?

Do NOT replace regular human interactions with a document with a few bullet point on it. If you like your company and want to still work there in a few years, do NOT use your PD as the basis for what you should and shouldn’t do. Ask your manager and peers for feedback, frequently.

We have position descriptions and our employees are very passionate, committed and creative

Great. Putting position description aside for a second, few companies can maintain passion, commitment and creativity in their employees. So, well done.

Getting back to position description, I have written plenty of them and in my experience they are very time consuming to write and maintain. Requiring that much effort and time, I would love to hear what value you, your boss or your employees are getting from them and if you could do the same or better without them. Please leave me a comment.

How can I hire without a position description?

This is a large topic that deserves its own post. In a nutshell, instead of selling a position by describing it, you should sell your vision, culture and working environment. When you’ve done that, you can then highlight what sort of values and skills your are after. A slight but a huge difference: instead of describing a role, you describe who YOU are as a business or team and who you’re after.

Issues with PDs in a nutshell

To summarise the issues I have with position descriptions:

  • PDs take a very long time to create.
  • They are also a snapshot in time and don’t change over time while the role, expectations, skillset and even the industry are constantly changing.
  • So to keep PDs relevant, you would have to spend a lot of time maintaining them.
  • That’s a lot of effort for no value because (hopefully) no one uses them.
  • Well, except for performance reviews I guess.
  • But performance reviews are such a bad idea to begin with.

An alternative to position description

I don’t think anyone gets off the bed in the morning and thinks: “I am going to be a really crappy employee today, produce a little bit of outcome with shitty quality, and make my team and manager’s life difficult”. Most employees want to be the best. They want to do high quality work. They just don’t know how to go about doing it. They don’t know what they’re expected to do. As a leader, you should be clear and explicit about your values and expectations. Then, if there is misalignment between your values and what your employee does, talk with them straightaway, understand their point of view and help them understand yours. Coach and mentor them, and learn from them. Likewise and as importantly, if they do something great, acknowledge and reward it.

But what if I train them and they leave?

What if you don’t, and they stay?!

Some people are not coachable and are making a negative impact on my team”

Nothing brews as fast as negativity in a team. I have touched on this in an old post titled dealing with net negative producing programmers/personnel. Don’t waste your time trying to coach the uncoachable or shoehorn someone into your company’s culture. If they don’t fit, make it clear, ask them to leave and put yourself, your team and the misfit out of misery. You should also reflect on how you got there. Was it a bad hire? If yes, is there anything you can do to improve your hiring process and avoid this in the future? Or was it mismanagement? Could that person have been managed to be much more productive and effective? Learn from your mistakes, improve and move on.