Defining the win: How job descriptions can improve employee performance
By Deborah Wipf

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For those of us who live in the Midwest, football is a pretty big deal. Go to any high school stadium on a Friday night during football season and you're likely to hear the roar of the crowd or the band playing the school song. If you walked into the stadium part-way through the game and asked "Who's winning?", you'd get a quick response. You could ask anyone — from the people in the stands to the cheerleaders to the band members — and they'll all tell you the same thing. So, how could such a diverse group respond to a question with complete consistency? Easy — they all know that the team with the most points wins, and they know how to locate the score.


Does your organization define and outline specific duties for each employee?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

In the workplace, these indicators are a bit harder to find. This means that as a leader within your organization, part of your responsibility is to define the win for your team members. Everyone needs to know how their responsibilities contribute to the success of the organization and what winning looks like for them and for the team. How do we develop this scoreboard? Through job descriptions and key result areas. Now, I know a job description seems like an unlikely document for defining a win or communicating success, but bear with me.

Try this experiment: Create a list of the responsibilities for one of your team members and ask that person to do likewise. Next, compare the two lists. I'd suspect that there are a few items on the team member's list you didn't expect or a few items missing. What happened? Well, if the win for that role has never been fully defined and documented, then people will make up their own version of a win. That's not an ideal scenario for them or for your organization.

This is where a well-written job description can actually be an excellent communication tool. You can set expectations for each role including what that person is responsible for and how that you will evaluate that person's job performance. This should include something called key result areas or KRAs. These are specific, measurable results the team member needs to achieve in order to win in his/her role. An example for a volunteer coordinator could be: "Train 10 new volunteers each month." Note that the KRA is specific ("Train 10 new volunteers") and time-bound ("each month").

Once you review the job description with the team member, he/she has the opportunity to ask questions if anything isn't completely clear and then sign off on the document to signify understanding and agreement to the job description. Each week or each month, depending on the measures, team members should submit a report to you based on their progress against each KRA. This makes evaluations an on-going process so you can work together to continually improve and quickly address any issues.

I'll admit that developing job descriptions isn't an exciting task. However, the improved communication and performance can be very exciting. Invest the time to work with your team members and develop job descriptions with KRAs. Your team will appreciate the clear expectations, and you'll reap the benefits of a more effective and engaged team.

Deborah Wipf is the president and founder of Velocity Management Group, a company dedicated to helping the leaders of nonprofits with the business side of running an organization. She loves ministry, big vision, details, project plans and organization. Combining these passions into becoming a "business coach for churches, ministries and nonprofits" is how Deborah seeks to serve God and help people.

Over the last 10 years, Deborah has worked in the for-profit arena developing the skills needed to pursue her passion — helping nonprofits. Connect with Deborah online on Facebook or on Twitter (@VelocityMgmtGrp).