Three Tools for Better Management

According to staffing agency Accountemps, managers spend an average of seven hours a week sorting out personality conflicts among staff members. If you and your managers could reduce that time and gain back even five hours a week to devote to more productive tasks, what value could that bring to your organization?

Job descriptions clarify roles and responsibilities. One of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce conflicts over “what went wrong” and increase the productivity of your staff is to use a clearly defined job description as a management tool. Here are few steps to get started:

1) Develop the job description. A job description is an index of systems that a person in the position would be expected to perform. A good way to develop this index of systems is to ask an employee in the position to track and document tasks performed daily and weekly. You might also ask your employee to organize the tasks into “strategic” and “tactical” processes.

Then, review the list to make sure your employee is doing what you would want someone in that position to do. You may be surprised to learn that your employees are doing tasks that fall under another’s responsibility or that they are neglecting to do tasks you know are critical to their role. Reviewing the list provides you with an opportunity to adjust the job description, clarify your expectations of the employee and better align that role to the needs of the organization.

2) Implement the job description. Once you have an acceptable job description, name each task as a system—for example, you might turn “Give sales presentation” into “Sales Presentation System”—and work with your employee to document each system.

Then, train your employee on how to execute the systems. Most managers assume that if they document a system and give it to an employee, the employee can do it. This is almost never the case.

A few years ago, I was preparing to leave for a four-week vacation to a favorite cottage retreat in Northern Ontario, Canada. Prior to leaving, I documented a system for managing my company’s database and asked a colleague to handle it while I was gone.

Four weeks later, I came back to find that the database was a mess. I approached my colleague and said, “The database is a mess. What happened?” I soon learned that she had taken the system documentation, put it on her desk and then forgotten about it.

The following year before leaving for vacation, I called her into my office and handed her the documented system again. As she got up to leave my office, I said, “Wait. Let’s sit and walk through each step of the system.” In all, it took about 25 minutes to review the document. During our conversation, she asked questions and gained a new understanding about the task at hand. When I came back from vacation, the database was in great shape; 25 minutes of “training” produced a completely different outcome.

One-on-one meetings help you respond to situations before it’s too late. Once you have documented job descriptions and trained your employees, it’s time to focus on managing them. One of the best practices is to conduct a weekly one-on-one meeting in which you use the job description as your agenda.

For example, if you manage a sales associate whose first task/system is to conduct sales presentations, you would check in with your employee to find out how many presentations have been conducted that week and compare that with your baseline of input and output—such as 10 presentations a week producing three new clients a month. By doing this, you can gauge the productivity of your employee and address any breakdowns.

If you notice breakdowns in productivity, you and your employee can look together at the systems to identify the source of the problem and collaborate on the solution rather than blaming one another or a colleague. Some possible explanations for the breakdown in productivity might be:

1)      The employee is not using the system because he or she does not even know about it.

2)      The employee feels the system doesn’t work and either needs training and/or can provide input to improve the system.

3)      The system doesn’t work anymore. If this is the case, you have a great opportunity to make a correction, responding to the situation before it causes greater negative impact on your company.

Use evaluations to improve performance and fairly award compensation. Many managers fear conducting performance evaluations because they’re not sure how to go about it. If you have created a job description, you can easily convert it into a performance evaluation document by adding a grading column next to the list of systems.

We use a grading system of 1 to 5, with a score of 1 indicating performance that is unacceptable and in need of immediate attention. If an employee rates a 1 in a particular system, you need to develop a plan to improve that score to a 2 or 3 within 30, 60 or 90 days. A score of 2 indicates this is an area the employee needs to work on and again, you’ll want to outline steps the employee can take to move this score to a 3. A 3 indicates that the employee is performing the task as outlined. Scores of 4 or 5 indicate exceptional performance that you may want to reward with increased compensation or a bonus.

The advantage of this type of evaluation is that it allows you to compare employee performance year over year and is a more objective tool for gauging when to increase compensation and to what degree.


It All Starts with a Job Description

Most business owners have no idea of the potential of the job description as a management tool! By investing time to develop clear job descriptions for each of your company’s positions, you will have tools that greatly facilitate hiring, training, managing and evaluating employees in a way that leaves them clear about the expectations of their role, improves morale and increases their ability to bring value to your organization.