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Job Descriptions

Job descriptions exist for nearly every position in nearly every company. They outline the overview of the job, responsibilities, work activities. They should also list job requirements, and clearly spell out which are mandatory, and which are ‘like-to-haves’.

Job descriptions are most commonly used for recruiting purposes or during annual reviews.

In a Lean company, job descriptions should also include a listing of continuous improvement tasks the person will be required to do. Many people view their responsibility as simply doing one’s job. They seldom, unless they have a significant Lean background, start a job expecting to be required to make improvements to the work.

In a Lean company, or any company focused on continuous improvement, for that matter, every individual is expected to identify, track, and solve problems. It can be a challenge to make the transition from doing one’s work to doing one’s work better. It is much harder when that responsibility is a surprise.

There is also a need in a Lean company to note that job descriptions will change. A person may be hired into one role, but because of the need for the company to adapt, the job responsibilities may shift over time. Constant competitive pressure means constant change. The job in two years may look significantly different than it does today.

In a company that is aggressive about continuous improvement, those changes may push people well outside of their comfort zone. People should be informed about that possibility in the job description.

For example, administrators are often asked to take on additional roles. A person entering orders may also become a de facto credit checker or work on collections—traditionally a job or the accounting department. A person accustomed to doing data entry may have a hard time getting on the phone for a challenging conversation. It is even harder when they feel blindsided by a change in their job.

  • Job requirements should be clearly stated in the job description. They should include a reference to many of the characteristics required by Lean employees: flexibility, communication, teamwork, attention to detail, self-discipline, etc. These should be discussed in detail during the interview process so candidates are not surprised when they are asked to do things that they may not be accustomed to. Be clear about what abstract terms mean for the particular job.
  • In continuous improvement, managers will frequently make changes that push people well outside of their expected role. The job description should address this, or people will feel duped when their responsibilities change. Plant the expectation that jobs will change over.
  • Revise job descriptions frequently to make sure they accurately describe what the job is. This will lessen the possibility that people will hire on to a job that is significantly different than what they were expecting. The work people do often does not even remotely resemble what the current job description says the requirements are. It stems from the rapidly changing nature of jobs in Lean companies.
  • Don’t make it hard for managers to adjust job descriptions to match a specific role. Some organizations have standard job descriptions for a particular role, but the actual work may be significantly different depending on which part of the company or which product line the person is working on. Make sure a hiring manage has the flexibility to adjust the job description to match reality.


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