How to Make Job Descriptions Work with Performance Evaluations
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
In the press of cash flow and deadlines, why would any company devote time to changing its performance evaluation system?
"Because," says consultant Tom Farley "done correctly, you will have your people lined up for and asking when their evaluations will be done. They will look forward to and prepare for it. Quite simply, a well-thought out evaluation process is one of the best management changes you can implement all year."
What Constitutes An Effective Evaluation System
Employers and employees want remarkably similar on-the-job outcomes. Farley, whose firm is in Lake Bluff, IL, explains it this way. "If you ask a group of employers and employees to list their complaints, you will find that the complaints are often the same: 'They don't listen' or 'They are inefficient.' This is simply the same displeasure, going in different directions."
Well-crafted position descriptions put employer and employee expectations on the same track. Well-executed performance evaluations facilitate communication and mutual problem-solving.
The Position Description Becomes A Map
Four years ago, one manager of an Ohio firm set out to redo job descriptions. "The former job descriptions were loose, subjective. The new descriptions are well defined. They generate more accountability. They define the scope of work, what's expected of the employee and what skills and competencies are required. I've found that a solid position description is crucial. How can employees do their job effectively without this guidance? It's a map to where you want to go."

Write the Description for the Position, Not the Person
To develop job descriptions for her company, this manager networked with colleagues and collected samples from other companies. "I extracted aspects I thought were fitting and personalized them to my own situation." What she did not do was involve current employees in the process. "I wanted to build the description for the position, not the individual."
Tom Farley concurs that many position descriptions fail because they are developed with a particular individual in mind. "Employers often install a person in a position. By default, that position then becomes defined by the individual: by his objectives, his goals, and his company role. But position descriptions should describe the goals and objectives of the job that can be covered by an individual. They shouldn't describe the activities of any particular individual."
Why Shouldn't Employees Develop the Position Description?
Many employers take the low road by asking employees to develop their own job description. Farley disapproves. "What does this say? It says, 'I don't think this task is worth management's time.' Or it says, 'I don't know how to do it.' What happens is that the employee doesn't write the position description as it should be, but rather as what that particular individual would like to be doing-and that includes keeping things out of the description which the employee doesn't want to do."
But don't employees understand their own job better than anyone? "Surprisingly, some people-even after ten years on the job-don't understand their purpose. They can give you a list of tasks, they can give you a record of what their day is like. But they often don't understand the purpose of their day; the way in which their work overlaps with the work of others with whom they interact; or where their lines of authority begin and why. These people tend to stagnate because they don't see a big picture that exceeds their past performance."
Include Broad Parameters of the Job
Broad points to include in a job description, says Farley, are management responsibilities, production responsibilities, daily and periodic activities, the employee's degree of financial responsibility and a list of other positions with whom the employee will interact.
More subjective criteria belong in the position description, too. The Ohio manager says, "I'm a firm believer that different personalities fit different jobs. You can't totally take personality out of the job. A public relations person, for instance, would need to be outgoing and good with people. So it's important to add some intangibles, to note what's expected in terms of attitude, self-motivation and so on."
The department manager of a firm in Minneapolis agrees. His company's position description has eleven components. "We have a standard form for all employees. It includes information on:
1. the purpose of the job;
2. quantitative details-the number of people supervised by the position, the budget size, the number of leads generated for sales personnel, our expectation of sales generated and so on;
3. details on the reporting system, including to whom the employee reports and with whom they work;
4. a recitation of jobs that normally report to the position;
5. details on expectations in terms of experience and schooling;
6. an outline of principal activities and duties and how much time each takes;
7. a section on problem-solving requirements, including major challenges of the job;
8. a description of decision-making authority for the position;
9. factors in accountability;
10. further explanation of working contacts, that is with whom the employee will have contact and how often; and finally
11. details as to any unusual working conditions, including the need to work long, long hours during the busy season."

Figure Out How Different Jobs Should Overlap
Position descriptions also should describe how one position overlaps with another. Farley explains. "In a small company with, say, three managers, two supervisors and a couple of clerical people, you may want more than one person to understand a critical job, particularly if illness, vacation or death could result in a sudden, drastic reduction in the company's ability to perform. Still, you don't want anyone spending too much time on someone else's job. It's a tough call, and a position description helps management make these sorts of decisions in advance."
The Breadth of the Position Defines Who Should Be Hired
A carefully crafted position description helps an employer recruit. Says one manager, "The new job descriptions are a terrific screening tool. Whenever I do an interview I have the prospective employee read the job description. I can often tell a great deal about the person's suitability for the job just from their reaction to the position description."
Don't expect a perfect fit, however. "A new employee doesn't need to walk in the door totally capable," she says. "What I need to know mainly is that he or she has the potential to grow into the position."
Farley agrees. "When you look at all the daily and periodic activities of a given job-all the behavioral traits that spell success and the experience required-you will see that a single individual probably won't have it all."
In fact, sometimes a well thought out position description will reveal that a single individual-or even two people-can't handle the whole job responsibility. Should that happens, says Farley, don't be tempted to ignore the position description when you interview. "Whether one person can do the job is not most important. The question then becomes, 'If I hire this individual, can he or she learn this job in a reasonable period of time?' And, if not, 'How will I cover the shortfall? What leftovers and blanks spots will I need to fill in? The answers to these questions become your training plan."

Position Descriptions Segue Naturally Into Performance Evaluations
Why is it so important to relate position descriptions to performance? Properly done, performance evaluations become a strategy for improved performance, says Farley. "If I hire and then don't train-if I see during any review that the employee is not fulfilling the goals-then this becomes at least as much my responsibility as theirs to correct. And where there are shortfalls, a plan for accomplishment can be developed. Any employee shortcomings identified during the performance evaluation then become part of a mutual plan for accomplishment."
The follow-up plan must be specific, not generic, says Farley. "When performance evaluations are set up in some generalized way, they are a waste of time for everyone. But when they focus on specific areas that need to be corrected-and how those areas will be corrected-performance evaluations become no more than periodic conversations to achieve objectives."
One manager agrees. Since implementing the revised job descriptions in 1992, the company has been through several iterations of a performance review form. "We presently use a generic evaluation form. One size does not fit all. We utilized another form and it, too, did not speak inclusively to all aspects of job performance. It is my current challenge to develop a form that will be very closely related to the job description."
Get Feedback Several Ways
Sources of feedback on employee performance include review of such documents as daily crew reports, says Farley. "This document shows what operations have been performed, what people were there, how time was spent and materials were used. The crew report produces information for payroll, billings the percentage of the job completed and inventory. This document drives the entire information system of the company, recognizing achievements as well as shortcomings in these areas can have enormous long-term benefits."
Farley suggests that managers review other information, too. "You'll want to look at how the employee participates in company meetings: the manner of participation and the sorts of contributions made. You'll want to evaluate how he or she interacts with other employees and clients."
The Manager Should Do the Review
The individual who performs a performance review should be the individual responsible for daily management of the employee's position. Farley says managers can effectively handle up to six people. "When you get too many individuals reporting to one manager the system breaks down. The manager should pretty much know the day-to-day activities of the employee. Some might be more out of touch than others, but they should at least know how to gather the information they need."

Details Provide the Basis for Review
The owner of a company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota maintains a notebook for each manager. Data such as weekly sales reports are filed there.
"The weekly report for sales personnel, for example, shows all prospect calls made, plans on the board, including names and addresses and the value of the job, proposals made, the number of men on the crews, the number of projects completed and their value, jobs in progress and their value, and new sales for the week. Sales for the month are compared to both last year's sales and this year's goals. The measurements are easy to judge. We look at measurable achievements, especially sales. Our merit review sheets are specifically related to various performances."
This company's merit review sheet divides performance management into nine areas: establishing goals, daily planning and time management, goal and work accomplishment, staff management, enthusiasm and motivation, quality of work performed, cooperation and support, customer relations, salesmanship, overall understanding, quality management and general comments. In terms of overall understanding, the company evaluates understanding of the job description, product knowledge and communications. The employee also is evaluated in terms of general quality of work, product care, equipment use and grounds and work areas.
The company also makes notes in the individual manager's file. "There might be a notation about attitude, for example, including a date and note of what happened. Any compliments or letters of commendation from a client go in. Any notes on how they are communicating with other employees and clients."
The sales manager of the company suggests relating incentive awards to profits rather than gross sales. "The manager of each of our divisions shares in the bottomline. We always send back 10 percent of the profit in that division to the manager. With the sales people, whose performance may vary, we look at the percentage of total sales generated by each, then award an appropriate portion of the 10 percent. In other words, a sales person who generates 30 percent total sales gets 30 percent of the 10 percent."

Review Objectives, Avoid Scoring, Devise A Plan
"Too often people are driven to come up with a numerical score when doing performance evaluations. That's a big mistake," Farley says.
"Let's say there are ten different criteria-professional competence, promptness, cleanliness and so on. As soon as you give a numerical value to these attributes, you give disproportionate value or weight to less important things."
And it does no good to try and correct a numerical system by weighting the attributes, Farley notes. "That is misleading, too, because in any given year or with any given person, different attributes have different weight."
The objective of performance evaluation, says Farley, is to come up with a new understanding of where the employee and employer need to go. "Now you have a plan. You can understand, 'Where do we go from here?'"
Provide A Structure for Improvement
Farley suggests that the evaluation include items that can trigger discussion related to particular incidents. In evaluating such attributes as accuracy, loyalty, personality, personal appearance, attendance, client relations, productivity and dependability, for instance, he recommends asking employees to evaluate themselves before the review. The manager fills out the same evaluation and results are compared, providing a solid basis for discussion. Even the most sensitive issues can be addressed constructively, because they arise as a result of the normal evaluation process, rather than as an angry, personal confrontation."

Dollars Are a Separate Issue
Farley's advice about salary and performance evaluation is simple: keep the two separate.
"When you're doing a performance review, keep the discussion of money out of it. Money, of course, is very important to the employee; he or she wants to make financial progress, certainly. So let the employee know when the salary discussion will occur. In other words schedule the timing of the financial discussion beforehand. That way, when you go into the evaluation, money won't intrude into the discussion."
Farley adds, "Improved performance and good planning usually make an employee more valuable and worthy of pay increases. Pay increases without corresponding performance have never made anyone a better employee. First things first."
What Will Employees Say?
Going back to rewrite position descriptions can be tricky for employers, but the benefits outweigh the risk, assures the Ohio manager.
"On the front-end, when I first redid the position descriptions, some of the current employees were concerned. I think they wanted to stay a little looser, a little more disengaged. Up until then, there hadn't been an effective standard of measure. After the new descriptions were introduced, though, they were very well received. I've found that the structure helps enormously during the promotion process, in helping people understand advancement and reward."
Another sales manager agrees that a formal evaluation process can threaten employees at first, especially those who have been with a company for many years. "A lot of people have been with me for a long time: ten, twelve, seventeen years. When you know people like that, formality can be a scary thing for them. I have worked hard on communication, especially in encouraging communication among the various employees themselves. During the winter time, when it's slow, we do our own training sessions. We sit in a circle and try to get people to open up. And my door is always open. The big boss has to wear many hats, has to counsel people. The most important thing is to be sensitive."
Well-conceived position descriptions have many benefits. "Not only do they provide a map for an employee's job, they can speak concurrently to a company's vision and to its mission statement," says the Ohio manager.
The key is to relate the performance evaluation to the position description, using it as a basis for discussion, planning and goal-setting. Farley sums up this way, "People feel awkward about performance evaluations. We are not naturally good at it. Neither employees nor employers do it well, so a lot of process overwhelms progress. Done well, though, performance evaluation imparts a whole new sense of teamwork and communication."
Farley makes a final point, "The occasion of performance evaluation is not so important in and of itself. The value is in setting a time when employer and employee can establish and reconfirm joint goals. For that reasons, the real benefit lies in the strength that the process lends to the relationship.
"Employee evaluation is an affirmative act of communication that must be learned and practiced, not merely another procedure executed with a form. Techniques can be taught and forms can be reproduced, but tangible results emerge only from the sincere interest of two minds determined to optimize joint interests."

Checklist for Position Description
Contributed by Tom Farley

1. Name of the Position. Does not include the person's name, but rather the functional title: e.g., operations manager.
2. To Whom the Position Reports. The fewer names listed here, the better.
3. Names of Positions of Immediate Subordinates.
4. General Responsibilities. Keep the list broad. You might say, for instance: manage estimating, approve all work before estimating, maintain estimation data base and inventory book, attend sales meetings, advise of inventory on hand, etc.
5. Daily Activities. Include whatever comes up. The list can be fairly long, for example: return phone calls from vendors, answer questions for the Billing Clerk, attend morning rally for the crew, etc.
6. Periodic Responsibilities. Include such specifics as: review and coordinate operating and financial statements, check the quick close and the end of the week, review productivity reports, meet with staff about the percentage of completion, attend training sessions, answer client questions and make visits on problem jobs.
8. Primary Contacts. Include the name of the position for each contact, the frequency of the contact and a key statement of the purpose for each. For instance, you might want to include: the receptionist for message retrieval and proposal typing; the foreman for trouble-shooting difficult production jobs.
9. Primary Contacts Outside the Company. Include the purpose of the contact; e.g. subcontractors, association people, clients, and so on.
10. Qualifications for the Position. Include the degree required, if any; for instance, a B.A. or Associate Degree. Add any previous experience or references required.
11. Skills and Knowledge Required. "Nobody ever comes fully equipped, even if they are very well qualified and experienced. Somebody coming into a larger company, for instance, might need to learn that company's management information system. In a small company, they would need to understand the manual paper flow."
12. Behavior Traits and Attitudes to Aid Performance. These may include such attributes as attention to detail, verbal skills, patience, phone skills, ability to work well under pressure, etc.
13. Most Difficult Parts of the Job. This list forestalls future problems, notes Farley. "You might say, for instance, 'Requires innovation and tact in dealing with busy people.' This could actually mean 'You have to deal with the crank in the barn.'"
14. Compensation and Benefits. "Especially with respect to benefits, this should be a shifting target. Use terms such as 'As of this time, benefits include life insurance, mileage compensation and one-half of medical premiums. Benefits are subject to change."' As for salary, state compensation in a range, say $20-$27,000 or $35-$50,000. This offers a sufficient range for employee incentive and shows the growth potential of the position."
15. Possible Career Path Options.
Nancy Rathbun Scott is a business writer living in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached at Visit for more information.

@2004 Nancy Scott