Small business tip: Give your employees job descriptions

As an employee, I rarely had a good job description or even a task list to know what my employer expected of me. This really became an issue when I was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing for a small business in South Texas.

The frustration of no job description

I knew what kinds of authority vice presidents typically had in major corporations and even in mid-sized companies I had worked for. Thus, when I became a vice president for the computer dealership I was working for, I expected to know what my authority was, what my job description was, and how I would be measured. My frustration in this position, in particular, taught me this small business tip: You need to give your employees job descriptions.

As it turned out, I could hire, fire, and discipline employees. On the other hand, my only measure was to increase sales. I would get a bonus when I did that. However, as the measurements were not spelled out, it really was no surprise that I never saw the promised bonus.

Confusion when employees have no job descriptions

Then, when I became a small business consultant working for a mid-sized consulting company out of Chicago, I began to see the problems that my small business clients had because they lacked task lists and job descriptions. One of the typical issues that came up was that an employee would have multiple bosses. This was especially common with partnerships and family-owned businesses.

What I observed is that people are not efficient and are less effective than they could be in such environments. They don't know what their jobs really are or how they will be evaluated or even who is going to evaluate them. Their confusion distracts them from doing their best work.

Employee surveys told us what motivates them

My consulting co-workers and I usually found when we surveyed employees that things like job satisfaction, recognition for good work, an opportunity for advancement, and a sense of belonging ranked higher than money on the list of what they wanted from their jobs. Please don't misunderstand; money is important. It's just that most people are not so mercenary that they will leave for another $0.25 per hour as long as they are getting the other things they want from their job.

Because of this, job descriptions and lists of expectations become really important. How can you feel job satisfaction if you don't know what is really expected of you? Likewise, how can you know you did a good job if you don't know how you are being measured? Finally, whose orders do you follow when two or more bosses tell you to drop what you are doing and do another task that is their crisis of the moment?

The reason for job descriptions

Although I said most people have things other than money as their primary desires, everyone I have ever met wants to make more money. That means they want periodic raises and bonuses or profit-sharing. If nobody knows how well they did, how will they get a fair review and evaluation? And who is going to give the review? How will they get a fair raise or share of the profit sharing? Unhappy employees not only are unable to give their best effort, they are also ready to leave for another job offer.

In a tight economy where you want to find ways to motivate employees, job descriptions can be one of your tools. Your employees will know what you expect of them, plus you can give them feedback based on the tasks and measurements you told them you would use. They can self-monitor to feel a sense of job satisfaction. Additionally, you can give them honest and meaningful recognition because you, too, will know when they have met and exceeded the job requirements.

This comes from experience both as an executive for a small business in South Texas as well as from observations as a small business consultant since 2003. Everyone wins with fair, well thought-out job descriptions. While employees will still want raises, you can use the standards set in their job descriptions to give recognition and take advantage of the intangibles that motivate your staff.

More from John R. Aberle:

First Person: The Power of the 'Business Compliment'

First Person: Hire People to Fit Your Business Culture and Your Management Style

How Rotary Helped Me Feel Like a Business Owner

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