The ‘Other Duties As Assigned’ Job Description – What Went Wrong?

Set employees up for success with realistic and clear expectations in their job description. Step back from what you need the person to accomplish and think about the skills and personality it will take to accomplish it.

By Kristen McAlister

It doesn’t take much to think back to the iconic “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel are working on an assembly line at a chocolate factory. Neither of them was doing a very good job keeping up with the speed of the conveyer belt. It just kept going faster and faster as Lucy did everything she could to keep up including shoving the chocolates in her mouth and clothes.

A number of things went wrong adding up to a pile of wasted product, frustrated employees, and an irate manager. If we were to step back and say, “what would we do different” it doesn’t take much to start making suggestions. We could start with the quick and rushed training to lack of supervision and leadership slowing down or stopping the conveyor belt when it was clear they couldn’t keep up with it.

I am reminded of this scenario often when speaking with business leaders who are frustrated with employees either not keeping up with the business’s needs or meeting expectations.

One example that comes to mind:

The Never Ending Pursuit of the Perfect Person

There is a natural growth cycle to most businesses. When they start, nothing matters but getting more business and growing revenues to sustain the company and keep the doors open. As the company grows and the revenues are there, it becomes challenged operationally. We see this when the day-to-day operations seem to be ruled by putting out fires rather than managing the business. This is the stage where clear process and procedures and leadership beyond the CEO/owner is needed most.

Nancy is CEO of a family owned beverage manufacturing business and was at this exact stage of growth. The daily routine of putting out fires or shuffling around who was doing what that day became the standard operating procedure. This can be seen quite a bit in growing businesses or businesses that have gone through a lot of change.

Nancy knew she needed some help. Her first leadership hire was an Office Manager, Stacy. Stacy was given the title of Office Manager for lack of a better description. She supervised the office staff and anytime a fire started, she not only helped put it out but worked to put systems in place to avoid potential fires in the future.

Looking back, Nancy will tell you she simply got lucky with Stacy. The two met through a mutual professional acquaintance. Never underestimate the power of networking. Stacy was everything Nancy didn’t know the business needed. Although there was no job description at the time, Stacy was someone who could help get the company organized and put out fires. She took the array of paper and post-it notes and combined into spreadsheets then eventually a cloud CRM system. She started documenting how everything was done and gathering information into easily accessible files that everyone could find as needed. She helped the employees stop reinventing the wheel and provided some much needed structure and foundation.

Over the next couple of years, Nancy’s company experienced substantial growth. Unfortunately, Stacy left due to a spouse’s relocation. Though Stacy was still involved with the company remotely on a project-by-project basis, there was a large void for someone onsite. Someone needed to be dedicated to keeping the wheels on the bus, identifying the issues, and coming up with longer-term solutions on a day-to-day basis.

Nancy moved forward and hired a replacement for Stacy. Unfortunately, Nancy realized that the luck in hiring was not a plan and was not repeatable.

After a couple of turnovers hiring outside the company, Nancy promoted someone from within the company who had been with the company for a number of years, Terry. Terry was a great employee, very detailed, very dedicated, and always willing to learn. After some time of having Terry in the role, Nancy realized there was a big gap. Terry did not like supervising or training and it was clear in her communications with the team. Not a good fit for a manager.

It was clear something wasn’t right. The challenge was figuring out where the issue was. Was it the hiring process or who they were hiring. After some thought, Nancy came to the same conclusion as most. She was trying to hire too junior of a person and needed to look for someone with more experience and pay more money. It has been almost two years at that point since Stacy had moved and she realized how lucky she had been to find Stacy. Rather than trying to find another Wonder Woman, she went back to the drawing board.

Based on the new direction of someone more senior, the team adjusted the job description to include what they had before and of course, some additional responsibilities since they were now bringing in some more senior talent. Why not? They decided to call the role “Operations Manager,” mostly because the activities on the job description involved the operations of the company.

Twelve months and two Operations Managers later, Nancy was beyond frustrated. Trying to diagnose where the hits and misses were, she looked at each person she had hired in to the position. She analyzed which of the role expectations the individual had been good at and where the issues had occurred.

A pattern started to emerge. She was looking for at least two different people with different backgrounds, and different skill sets. Once identified, it was clearer that the gaps she was looking to fill required a range of skills typically not found in just one person.

One set of responsibilities involved managing projects, improving process flows, and managing people. This is a common for an Operations Manager role and involves skill sets such as being personable, being a great listener, the ability to multi-task, having clear communication, and being very organized. An Operations Manager needs to be able to manage their workload as well as the workload of many others on the team.

On the other hand, the other set of responsibilities involved support tasks such as cross referencing data from one excel sheet to another in preparation for an ERP implementation. This requires someone who can easily focus, is very detailed, and who’s job is more task oriented.

Essentially, the Operations Manager is responsible for analyzing the data while the more administrative oriented individual helps put the data together.

Finding someone who can have a high degree of competency in both of the above scenarios can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. The company is asking someone to have split personalities.

In the end, Nancy ended up bringing in two additional administrative oriented employees to help support the growing business and a Director of Operations to support and improve the operational infrastructure to get the company to its next stage of growth.

If you sometimes feel like you are in the middle of an I Love Lucy chocolate episode in your company, here are a few symptoms you are likely witnessing:

  1. Difficult to fill position due to candidates not having just the right mix of background, skills, expertise, and culture fit.
  2. Lots of turnover in a single position.
  3. Struggling employees – the employees are great in some aspects of their job but as a whole, the employee is struggling.

Take Action with Your Job Description

Here are some steps to consider if any of the above symptoms sound familiar.

  • A good place to start is with the job description. If it has not been updated in a while, update it with the current tasks, activities, and expectations. As difficult as it is to narrow it down to a focused set of responsibilities start by dividing them into three categories: Must haves, prefer to have, and wishful thinking.
  • Add a few columns to the job description and list the skills needed to be successful at each.
  • Look for the trends versus the inconsistencies.
  • Consider reallocating responsibilities amongst the employees based on skill sets and expertise.
  • If in the hiring process, consider splitting the job description in half (or there about) and hiring either two part-time employees or contracting the more challenging tasks to a specialist.

Is what you are looking for realistic? Does it take that one-in-a-million hire to fill the role? Set the employees up for success with realistic and clear expectations. Step back from what you need the person to accomplish and think about the skills and personality it will take to accomplish it. How many personas are you looking for?

 

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Cerius About Helping Companies Avoid Painful Lessons Learned

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