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The job description.

The Job Description

"That's not my job!" Does even the thought of hearing these words make your neck veins bulge, forehead perspire, and cheeks turn red? If so, let's look at a job description program that matches up what happens at your association--or is supposed to--with who does it.

Developing, updating, and maintaining job descriptions may rank up there with having your teeth cleaned and changing your car's oil. But, like all good maintenance--and management--it pays. Consider our experience at the Georgia State Golf Association (GSGA), Atlanta, where I was hired as executive director in 1983.

At the time, the staff consisted of a part-time secretary, part-time administrative assistant, and me. The three of us basically operated by feel; we knew what needed to be done and we did it. If that meant I answered the phone while our secretary typed and our administrative assistant stuffed envelopes, so be it.

Today, with a full-time staff of eight, $1 million budget, five departments, 25 committees, and three smaller associations to run, that approach won't work. A full-service organization needs staff job descriptions to

* capture and formalize staff duties and responsibilities; * develop reporting relationships; * clarify staff responsibility for services, programs, activities, and committee support; * communicate to the board the professionalism and organization of staff and the limits of staff responsibility in implementing board initiatives; and * provide a means to establish salary ranges for staff positions.

Jump-start the process

Before you start, give your staff a reason to buy into the project. You'll need them to play an active role in this process. Call a short staff meeting to discuss why this project is important to the association. Inspire them by pointing out the anticipated reduction in chaos and stress once their job descriptions tell them what's coming. At GSGA, I explained that this work would be a building block in a new salary administration plan. "Once we nail down just what you do," I said, "you'll probably find your position is worth more than you get paid." And in fact, a year later most staff received a substantial salary increase.

Give staff a break by tackling this project in your slowest period. Don't try it while preparing for your annual convention.

Collect your data

There are two steps here:

Review the mission of your organization. Include your major programs, activities, and services. The purpose of this step is threefold. You'll review the association's goals and think about categories of staff work that fulfill them. You'll consider who is ultimately responsible for each major pursuit and who assists that person. And, before finalizing the job descriptions, you'll return to the mission statement to be sure nothing has fallen through the cracks.

Membership recruitment and retention is everyone's job, for example, but one person must be ultimately responsible. If you have a small staff, you probably don't have a full-time person working strictly on membership. The task may be divided among several people, while the buck stops on your desk. Staff position descriptions will spell out the extent of each person's responsibility for membership recruitment and retention--which clarifies priorities and expectations for staff--and collectively fulfill all the requirements of the mission statement.

Take inventory of every activity staff performs. You'll use this list to write the job descriptions, so note the difference between what and how. For example, say your secretary sees that incoming mail is distributed to all other staff members. You don't need to describe how this is accomplished; just what the result is.

I followed three routes in taking inventory at GSGA. To be sure you don't miss anything, first ask incumbents to catalog all the tasks they perform by keeping a running list for a week and adding items they handle at other times of the month or year. Again, remember to focus on outcome, not process. "Develop and run children's program at annual meeting," for example, defines the whole task, while "Order children's name tags for annual meeting on October 15" is just one part.

Next, interview incumbents about the tasks they perform. As with proofreading your own writing, when describing your job it's hard to see what you left out. You'll probably find the incumbent's inventory missed some responsibilities that should be included in a job description.

Look for misplaced or infrequent tasks. Maybe your finance director happens to organize a telephone fundraiser every year. Or does an administrative assistant write copy for the newsletter? You may find tasks missed by naming another department and asking, "Do you have any responsibilities there?" Or run through the association's major services and functions, asking, "Have you worked on these?"

Finally, observe incumbents performing their jobs. This is awkward and uncomfortable for both parties, but it helps to fill in any last gaps. Pick a few different times of day and days of the week to observe. Do more than just watch: Try to link what the incumbent is doing to a broad area of responsibility. For example, rather than note, "Sally took an order for a back issue of our magazine," you might discover she "fulfills all magazine orders."

Get ready to write

Quite likely you've gathered a massive amount of information. You need to summarize and categorize it before writing position descriptions.

Reduce the quantity of details by grouping like activities and tasks into general descriptive sentences or phrases. Avoid oversimplifying, but don't wind up listing a number of related duties separately when a general statement suffices. Rather than list all the procedures that make up membership record keeping, for example, say, "Maintain membership records."

Group related activities into one job description, instead of spreading them through several different jobs. So if you offer an insurance program to your members, it's most functional to have all the program responsibilities in one job description. This keeps things simple in terms of organization and helps develop staff experts in critical areas of your association.

Now that you are ready to write job descriptions, ask ASAE or your allied society for samples. You'll probably find a format in your network of friends and associates that meets your needs. Regardless of the format you adopt, each of the elements described in the chart, "Assembling the Pieces: A Sample Job Description," should be addressed.

Remember, the writing style for a job description should be concise, focusing on outcome, not process. Use the present tense and language that is not limiting. To help refine your cataloged tasks further, amalgamate as many tasks as possible into a group when writing the job description. For example, if the position requires designing, ordering, and mailing brochures for a membership campaign each year, write, "Develop and implement annual membership campaign."

Also note that there is a difference between exempt and non-exempt position descriptions. (For a complete discussion of exempt and non-exempt status, see "Defining Fair Compensation" in the October issue.) Since by definition non-exempt employees usually do not supervise others, make independent management decisions, or allocate funds, these and other sections of an exempt job description will not apply. So, for non-exempt position descriptions you can either write "none" or "not applicable" as appropriate, or you can leave those sections out.

Put them to work

For each position, the supervisor should review the job description with the incumbent. Together they can clarify any muddy areas and discuss in frank terms what's expected.

Don't allow your job descriptions to become dusty documents on the shelf or descriptions that only remotely resemble what the incumbent is actually doing. Use them as tools to assess performance at review time and update or modify them then. When a staff member is leaving the organization or being promoted,

he or she is likely to be candid about the former position; it's a good time to review the description.

Why go to all this trouble? At GSGA, as our staff expanded to keep up with the explosive growth we experienced in the mid-1980s, I made two significant errors. First, I delegated plenty of work, but not enough authority. For almost every important decision, the solution was, "Better run this one by Steve." Second, I allowed a pattern of reverse delegation to take place by not insisting that decisions be made at the appropriate level. Rather, decisions were passed up the line until they reached me.

My response was to develop clearly defined position descriptions that gave staff appropriate authority to make decisions. Additionally, notes routed to me that read, "Please advise as to what we should do," were sent back with the response, "Let me know what your decision was."

Almost all logistic details for our next annual meeting were assigned to a staff member. Nevertheless, I was beseiged when questions arose that required a decision. I politely reponded. "Miss Jones is in charge of this meeting, and I'll be happy to get her on the phone with you." Before long, the calls stopped coming to me.

Of course, you have to include the authority to make decisions with the responsibility. You also have to support those decisions and be willing to accept mistakes you might not have made.

People thinking for themselves--weighing factors, making choices, and handling the consequences--enjoy a sense of autonomy and empowerment. They are able to invest themselves more freely in their work, doing a better job of it and taking more responsibility at the same time. Developing job descriptions at GSGA helped create an environment of autonomy and acceptance of responsibility that clearly was not present before.

Stephen F. Mona, CAE, is executive director, Georgia State Golf Association, Atlanta.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Professional Development
Author:Mona, Stephen F.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Getting the performance you want.
Next Article:Orient your staff.

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