10 September 2006

Job Purpose

Facilitating focus groups for employees to write their own job descriptions is not as easy an assignment as one might think. I bet a lot of managers believe that these job descriptions are nothing more than static documents the company needs for its image and face value. Job Descriptions indeed can be more than merely filling out a form detailing employees' job responsibilities. As a matter of fact, most attendees of the focus group sessions I facilitated recently were not clear about the very first and foremost element of their job: its purpose.

Every job must have a purpose, an objective, a reason it exists. Otherwise, the job has no direction, no motivation, and no sense of achievement on the part of the job holder. Now the key point is that the employee who does not know the purpose of his job is not to blame. Purpose is a mandatory philosophical and foundational element for any organization, and it should be defined and cascaded down to the rest of the organization. The managers of an organization have a duty to define the purpose for each employees' job, which should soundly reflect the purpose of the organization's existence.

Most of the focus group participants defined their job purpose as something like "to make profit for the division". While this is always an obvious purpose for any job, this statement does not distinguish one job from the next. It can be argued that one job is all that is needed to achieve the above purpose. But in reality, there are many jobs that have been created within the organization, and each one should have a distinct purpose that assists the organization achieve its vision. Think about your own job: what is the purpose of your job and how does it help the organization achieve its strategic vision and objectives?

A job purpose should be specific to include all the domain areas you are responsible for, should not be vague or generalized, and most of all, should contain some element of emotion that helps link an employee to his/her job. A doctor's purpose might be "To help save the lives and increase the quality of life of men, women, and children who are under the care of our hospital." Wouldn't you get excited if your purpose was to save lives?

The most important factor when you write your job purpose is to link it to the internal or external customers that will benefit from the work you do. Reach out to your employees/community/customers/stakeholders with your job that makes it indespensable. If your job wasn't there, how would the organization and its customers suffer in terms of their satisfaction and needs? This purpose will define an employee's work so that he/she will be better able to prioritize and get rid of things they shouldn't waste their precious time on, so that they can better serve their organization and its customers.