Adapting the Job Description in the Post-COVID-19 Business Environment
Anyone familiar with hiring is also very familiar with the typical job description. Reporting structure, high-level purpose, key skills, and attributes for the ideal candidate. This is something of a historical standard.
However, leaders in a post-COVID world need to reassess how they develop job descriptions to succeed in this new reality.
JDs are often designed after traditional ways of managing white-collar employees.
It’s fair to point out situations where the classic apprenticeship model builds a tactical toolkit in a constructive way and without micromanagement. Managers teach the employee how to balance their time working closely until they feel that they “get it”.
This way of teaching a new employee made a lot of sense in traditional organizations. Logical, as these organizations had learned how to produce the desired results. Could a different method lead to the same outcomes? Possibly.
However, most organizations didn’t have the capability to properly define, implement, and track key performance indicators for each role, let alone monitor success to see if using a different method achieved better outcomes.
Instead, the mantra was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This traditional method is a product of decades of leadership inertia and also continues to reinforce itself. It is the lower up-front energy solution to bringing in new employees. Big picture qualitative themes are easier to define than specific quantitative objectives.
Pre-COVID, leaders did not only rely more on qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) milestones to onboard and measure employees. They also used qualitative metrics to attract talent.
Big picture concepts – those high-level strategic models that the candidate would be tasked with owning – do a great job of catching the eye of ambitious top performers.
Once on the ground, mechanics and tactical day-to-day objectives that either slowly manifest on their own or take shape with nudges from leadership.
Fast forward to onboarding employees virtually.
Good or bad, this hands-on apprenticeship just doesn’t have as strong a foothold in the post-COVID workplace. The opportunity for constant coaching and interaction has become much more challenging in this new virtual team setting.
The first challenge we run into is that it’s difficult to walk the line between being supportive and a micromanager. A constant flurry of tactical redirections from above can keep the employee driving more or less in a straight line, but the line for micromanagement can get crossed quickly.
What may seem like a welcome suggestion in week 2 can easily become an annoyance in month 2 and a fire alarm in month 4. Everyone has different levels of tolerance. Crossing the line not only annoys the employee and leads to productivity loss among other issues. But also takes a LOT of the manager’s time, who feels like they have to point the employees north again every other day.
Fortunately, there is a way to combat both the challenge of remotely located/dispersed teams as well as the risk of micromanagement. It is accomplished through a focus on explicitly spelling out the details of the role with activity metrics, tactical objectives, and desired outcomes.
The intent is to lay out the critical tactical goals, focusing the new hire on what the company wants their efforts to yield. The employee is familiarized with the holistic view of the system as a whole. Understanding the full value chain, cause, and effect, and how their tactical achievements feed the success of the company is a critical piece of this systems thinking approach.
The new hire then can make daily decisions based on how it will affect the system. IE, their role, team, and company as a whole. Couple that with clear guidance on big-picture desired outcomes and you’ve got a new hire who can make tactical decisions on their own based on the company’s strategic mission.
It’s a win-win-win.
Less required hand-holding, less micromanagement, and a deeper, more meaningful alignment between employee and the overall objectives of the organization.
Consider the role of a salesperson with the charter of selling widgets in New England over the phone. Historically, from there an onsite sales team would guide daily activities, share best practices, and mentor a new salesperson to be successful.
Put the salesperson at home in a different city with the same job description but only limited daily virtual coaching. They may be successful depending on how they attack the challenge. But consistency or alignment with the sales team strategy, let alone company ethos, is a crapshoot.
Now consider a job description that articulates key daily activities, the quota of sales calls, sales conversion metrics as well as top-line sales goals.
In this scenario, the new hire is armed with the tools and levers to easily measure themselves on or off-plan at any point, as well as to measure overall success in their high-level objective.
This method allows their manager to focus on providing apprenticeship in areas where this salesperson is underperforming, as opposed to micromanaging the employee in all aspects of their work.
This in turn will foster creativity and a truly diverse way of building workplaces. Where employees are not just encouraged to be diverse on the surface, but also in how they achieve the desired results in their work.
Designing JDs more conducive to the remote office environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the business world in countless different ways. It has caused whole industries to crumble and others to thrive. Nonetheless touching just about every organization in one way or another.
Adaptability and agility as a leader in response to this global phenomenon is at least part of the solution for a successful path into tomorrow. More and more organizations are adopting virtual and remote work arrangements. So, leaders must also respond to the evolving interpersonal dynamic where face to face engagement has changed dramatically. And, in some cases, disappeared altogether.
Objective, tactical, and outcome-oriented clarity on the employee’s role is one valuable way to ensure the virtual workplace can continue as a viable framework for the office of the future.
Atta Tarki is the founder and CEO of ECA Partners, a 120-person, data-driven project staffing and executive search firm, and the author of Evidence-Based Recruiting (McGraw Hill, February 2020). Prior to starting ECA Partners, Atta spent six years as a management consultant at L.E.K. Consulting.
Burton Francis is a Managing Director of ECA Partners, where he works with private equity-backed clients on executive search and consulting needs. Prior to ECA, Burt worked in Management Consulting with Oliver Wyman, spent time in engineering leadership at Boeing, and currently sits as the executive chairman on the Board of Directors for a precision manufacturing company.
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