Spelling out what you want

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If you’re looking for ways to strengthen your business, I’ve got a small project for you to sink your teeth into. This one won’t cost you much and won’t take heaps of your time, but could yield a significant increase in your staff productivity. I guarantee that the effort will be well worth while. This is the type of exercise that we sometimes get business owners to do when we are structuring or restructuring their businesses.

Grab several members of your staff, preferably a mixture of full timers and casuals. In turn, ask each of them the following two questions: ‘What EXACTLY is your job?’ and ‘How do I judge if you are successful, or not?’ If the answers come back uncertain, vague or incorrect, you have a major opportunity — after all, how can you expect them to kick a goal if the goal posts are not stationary and visible? You should be able to ask these questions and get a concise answer from ALL of your staff.

The issue here is proper communication. If your staff assume their job is X, and you really want it to be Y, you are setting yourself up for poor performance and staff turnover. They do the job they assume you want them to do and wait for the accolades; meanwhile you’re unhappy, because they aren’t doing what you want them to do, and the accolades never come. If the difference between your perception of their job and theirs’ is too far apart, it can result in you giving them a stern lecture just when they are expecting a pat on the head.

I’m amazed at the number of managers and owners who expect their staff to be psychic and automatically know what’s expected. It doesn’t work that way. Every workplace is different, every employer has emphasises on different aspects of their businesses. Staff have different levels of experience and understanding of their role. There is no such thing as a ‘waiter’, a ‘cook’ or a ‘kitchen hand.’ A broad variety of people describe themselves as these things and it’s up to you to clarify the roles as they apply to your business.

I normally teach business owners and managers do this through the process of orientation and induction training. When a new employee starts, you should devote sufficient time to acquaint them with your business philosophy, the environment they will be working within, and your expectations for their performance and conduct.

Your expectations for their job performance should be communicated via what I consider to be the most important piece of paper in all of business — the job description. A job description is a concise statement, in writing, of the major goal and key responsibilities of a particular position. It is usually no more than two pages in length. Unfortunately, it has to be in writing — you can’t do this verbally because it forms the unarguable, solid platform from which a number of critical activities in your business are developed.

The second use for a job description is to guide your recruitment. Once you have described the job you want done, you are in a position to stand back and decide exactly what skills, qualifications and experience you need to fulfil the role. For example, if you haven’t determined that your Chef has to develop standard recipes as part of the job, you may not look for literacy skills when you recruit. A well considered job description will lead you to recruit far more suitable people for the jobs you need fulfilled.

The third use of the job description is the development of staff training. Once you have an accurate job description it is an easy matter to expand the key responsibilities of a staff member out into individual tasks and define a relevant training plan for that person. In other words, you start out broadly, by defining the key aspects of the job, then you make sure they can do each aspect to your standard.

Finally, the job description is used as the basis for regular performance appraisal with your staff. This means once a month you sit down with each one of your direct subordinates (there should be no more than five or six, otherwise your structure is unworkable), and review their work performance compared with their job description. You ensure they are fulfilling their major reason for existence and not straying away from the targets, and give credit where credit is due. Performance appraisal is the mechanism you should use to steer the ship via a series of minor adjustments to the rudder, rather than by radical changes of direction at times of crisis.

Everybody should know what they are supposed to be doing and where they stand in your esteem. If you think they do a good job, they should know it; if you have concerns about their performance, they should also know it — before it builds your frustration to the point where you express yourself destructively. In the training courses I run, I often ask the question: ‘When was the last time your boss told you that you were doing a good job?’ Sadly, an average of only two out of ten can remember the last time they got any positive feedback.

What I would like you to try is to alter the way you supervise your staff away from task assignment (‘Please set up the function room then come and see me when you’ve finished, and I’ll give you another job’) to the assignment of clear responsibilities (‘I would like you to be responsible for the organisation and smooth running of the Smith function. I’ll judge that you’re successful if we make a profit and both the guests and the staff are happy’). Beginning by making sure the goal posts are in clear view for everyone.

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