Job Descriptions and the Changing Job Landscape

by Christopher Knize, CCP, GRP - September 21, 2020
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The pandemic has changed the content and meaning of every job in the economy. Job descriptions are the way we document and mange those changes.

The Coronavirus situation changes the way we do business today. It will have rippling effects on how we think about our future workplace.  It shapes our daily interactions.

The virus continuously changes my life in many ways.  I had my first telemedicine physical last week, for example. It is hard to know which of the changes will stick. While that makes things uncertain and ambiguous, it makes innovation much easier.

The ways in which the virus changes work may be even more significant.

My interactions with customers (HR and Compensation professionals) changed powerfully over the last few months.

Last year we decided to initiate a major product release, JobArchitect - our job description management module. This was just before the fog of COVID emerged. Like most, we did not foresee the change. The project began slowly in late 2019. 2020 was our target for full ahead execution. We were completely engaged at the onset of the virus.

Normally, our beta participants are a powerful part of product development. They volunteer their time, understanding there is work involved. They know their feedback directly leads to improvements in the product and a better product experience. They are deeply engaged. There was something different this time

The difference was profound. Customers started putting time on OUR calendars to talk about their job description projects. They wanted to pick our brains about how to think about these projects.  They asked how other beta participants were thinking about job description initiatives.  We saw spikes in the usage of related product pages.  We could not get beta participants to stop using the product!

The virus makes customers pay more attention to their job description management process.  Even though talent acquisition might be a much lower priority, job descriptions help businesses preserve order and establish a sense of structure. Jobs have begun to change in a meaningful way since early spring. Now, organizations must stay on top of job descriptions.

Our job description product is a case of right time, right place. The purpose and intent of the job description is changing. One way of thinking about the impact of the pandemic is that it changed the content and meaning of every job in the economy. Job descriptions are the way we document and mange those changes.

Here are a few of the things we are seeing.

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1. Companies see the Pandemic as a great opportunity to rethink their job description approach

Business is always moving forward. That means it’s impossible to find the time to restart and reconsider. One of the blessings of the pandemic is that it provides us with a do over.  In the beginning, we saw clients shelving big projects because of the extraordinary levels of uncertainty.

This opened the door for revitalization projects.  These initiatives began with building stakeholder teams to reimagine the purpose of job descriptions. It got fundamental quickly: what data do we want; who collects it; and, how? We see a flurry of job description rewrite projects today.

The pressure to tighten HR budgets is at an all-time high. Rooting out unnecessary job duplication means inventorying positions that have been correctly described. Difficult decisions about headcount reductions are easier when you possess quantifiable facts and well-defined job descriptions. Is the job critical? Is it unique? Who are the logical replacements? Which jobs can be combined?

Job description configuration management is a challenging business. Word docs in various states lurk unmanaged in SharePoint directories. The JobArchitect product gives customers the ability to manage and control robust workflows with measurable outcomes.

Instead of ‘herding cats’ our clients have the ability to strategically manage job description evolution. They ‘sandbox’ their designs and approaches to test ideas before they are deployed. The JobArchitect allows clients to fully realize the value of their existing assets while clarify shortfalls.

All companies have the core components of job descriptions: lists of responsibilities, certifications, KSAs, and physical requirements. Once aggregated, these components can be used to reinforce consistency as the job description team begins to understand patterns or frequency of use. They are the foundation of any attempt to scale a job description project.

Rather than a series of projects that develop a catalog of job descriptions, the JobArchitect tool allows customers to build a scalable process. Underlying skills get repurposed or modified over career progressions in a job family.  That means that changes can roll through the body of job descriptions in a uniform and consistent way and users can see the transformation of those skills.

We are excited about joining our customers on a journey to develop fully mature, responsive job architectures. It’s more than simple configuration management. It’s a gateway to a long-lasting fit between a changing market and compensation. It’s the foundation of adaptability.

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2. HR is being asked to evaluate two issues: how COVID is changing job responsibilities and if that translates into pay differences

Our clients are taking an “All hands-on-deck” approach.  Formal job descriptions take a back seat to business continuity during emergencies. Employees take on more responsibilities and wear more hats than before.

At the same time, businesses always examine headcount first when the economy tanks. The two thrusts (reducing labor costs while expanding job boundaries) create a tough challenge. What does this mean for the HR team and their obligation to pay someone fairly? Generally, compensation is based on duties and responsibilities.

Here’s one way we see customers approach the problem.  They do a quick evaluation of the new requirements without formally changing the original job description.  Our customers use a lot of “draft” job description functionality. Then, they compare the changes using JobArchitect (beta) to see a before and after view.  They send the draft to company stakeholders in the company to see if the job actually changed.

Customers also assess the time spent on COVID-generated duties.  Are they offset by a reduction or elimination of other duties?  If these new requirements are just a temporary solution, some organizations offer temporary incentives.  They include spot-bonuses or other perquisites without actually changing compensation.  Then, it is not an entitlement.

When the new duties and the previous ones are similar, look to see if those requirements balance out.  The Compensable Factors functionality in CompAnalyst Market Data lets you see when a change in requirements means a change in pay.

Tactical adjustments in job descriptions help circumvent these questions.  Some Job Description authors add language like “may be required to perform other related duties”.  This provides flexibility for future changes.

Sometimes, a client wants to merge the duties of another worker into a job. This means a full redesign of that job description.  It is a perfect use case for JobArchitect beta.

Our beta users send individual job descriptions to stakeholders to see how requirements are changing.  The tool offers users the ability to solicit input without a formal workflow. Ideally, compensation analysis uses a formal workflow. But 2020 is unpredictable. Layoffs and furloughs change things in unpredictable ways.

We learned that our customers require complete flexibility in the job description feedback processes.

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3. Job Descriptions can be part of the HR Communication Story for employee engagement

Organizations want more transparency in their job descriptions. There are several reasons. Right now, there is a shortage of tools to motivate critical workers. While attrition concerns can be on the back burner, it is prudent to prepare for the future.

If things return to “normal” and human capital could be in higher demand, there is a steady concern about finding unique ways to motivate talent to supplement compensation.  Our customers use job descriptions and related content to illuminate potential opportunities.  Well-constructed and compelling Job Descriptions become ways to explain where growth happens.

“How do I get from a level II to level III Accountant?” “What other roles use my skillset?” “Could I qualify for jobs with a little bit of training?” These questions become more clearer with structured job descriptions.  These questions are the starting point for Job Architecture design or Organizational Development projects. As always, we start with the basic job description catalog.

One of the most frequent asked questions is “How can I share a job description with others in the organization”?  Many want the entire employee base to see finalized descriptions. Others want line managers or business units to see related job descriptions.  Almost everyone wants unique ways to share specific job description elements with core audiences.  They need an export of core fields (duties, leveling descriptors, skills, competencies and associated levels, or certifications) embedded in corporate branding and messaging.

Our tool’s export functionality meets this need. Our clients directly export intranet ready job description components.

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Moving towards the future

We asked the beta participants to describe their ‘big dream’ for a job description management tool. More often than not, they said “an easy way to see consistency and progressions between jobs in the same job family or group. We need to understand the alignment of related jobs and communicate career paths.”

We listened closely. We embedded this idea in the product especially when we customers map their job content to compensation and salary ranges. Like any good question, the capability spawned even better questions.

Our customers can now show the evolution of skills and competencies across jobs.  It is easy to see the way jobs are grouped by family and level in an organization. The new pictures make organizational planning easier for executives.  Quickly demonstrating the structure and direction of jobs is not just a way to motivate key talent. It is a way to motivate key stakeholders into buying into a corporate vision about key talent.  Using our tool, the job description becomes a critical component of communicating across the entire organization.

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Current conditions will not change soon. It will be interesting to see if the proactiveness and visibility of job descriptions continues.  We will continue to monitor progress and impact.  In the meantime, please reach out to Salary.com for a demo of our JobArchitect product. We build our products to meet the vision of our customers and their HR practitioner associates.

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