Build Trust with Job Descriptions

We need more trust in the workplace.

According to data collected by Stephen M R Covey, high trust teams and companies out-perform their low trust competitors by 4 to 1. High trust, in addition to being more profitable, is also less stressful and more fun. Here’s one thing you can do immediately to start raising trust levels in your own immediate circle at work — with the humble job description.

Trust is built when we set, and then fulfill, expectations.

The CEO should be first in line to push for accurate, public job descriptions. When a team member is doing exactly what she should do, and everyone can tell she’s exceeding expectations, and then she gets promoted, that promotion creates a sense of satisfaction for everyone. Conversely, when promotions seem to come out of the blue, it generates cynicism.

As Jurgen Appelo wrote in Great Managers Have No Secrets: “When employees lack good information, they will invent some…”

And most people invent bad information. The mystery promotion? Probably due to brown-nosing and favoritism. And of course good performance looks like it’s unrewarded — indeed it can pass unrecognized, even by those performing it.

I have a client, Joan, who is suffering with no job description. Her story is a perfect illustration of how a missing job description can have a corrosive effect on trust.

Joan’s boss is constantly changing expectations for what Joan should be doing. A few months ago she was told to stop selling. Last week, she was abruptly asked in an all-staff meeting how much she had sold. (This pattern has been repeated with several other duties as well, meaning the boss as developed this into a habit.) I’m convinced the boss himself has no idea what Joan should be doing.

In this circumstance, the boss is ensuring Joan is seen as a failure by her peers. And the boss is both the creator of this drama and a victim of it — even if he wanted to be more fair, he’s still relying on his memory for what he wants Joan to be doing. Only a written job description can create the shared reality that would allow Joan to be a success in her own eyes, her peers’ eyes, and her boss’ eyes.

Each boss has an obligation to set clear expectations

In a recent interview Steve Balzac, author of “The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Organizational Development“, put it this way:

Part of what builds trust is structure — where we each know what to expect from the other team members, and can tell if they are keeping up their part, or letting us down. With the role comes an expectation, and by fulfilling that expectation I build your trust in me. That allows us to maintain trust even when we don’t see each other all the time.

Part of the “structure” that Steve is referring to is the job description.

Here are 6 steps you can take to create a missing job description, or improve an existing one — and build trust.

four hand drawn graphs of key deliverable metrics
You can build trust by sharing your progress against agreed targets, even with simple charts.
  1. Draft your own job description, starting from nothing — don’t work off the old one if you have it. Start with the top 3 biggest things you need to accomplish in your role. Don’t list a lot of small tasks — focus on the big picture.
  2. Get 5 minutes with your boss. When you meet, hand her a blank sheet and ask her to take 90 seconds and write down the top things she expects from you — what you need to deliver in order to achieve 100% of her expectations. Ask, “What does an excellent job look like, once it’s done?”
  3. Get 5 minutes with some of your peers, teammates, and internal customers and repeat the process.
  4. Draft a single job description that combines the insights from all these sources.
  5. Share this new job description with your boss and stakeholders. (If your work place is formal, work with HR to revise your “official” job description.)
  6. Start tracking your accomplishments in performing the work in your job description — don’t be afraid to put up a line graph on the wall where you and others can see it (see illustration).  Unless your work culture is super-polished, don’t sweat the appearance – go for content first.  A “draft” appearance will invite more input.

Payoffs include trust, increased likelihood of promotion, and the ability to succeed at a higher level.

Note to bosses: if your people lack up-to-date job descriptions, have them each draft one using this process.  This is a perfect task to delegate and review.

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