Do your employees’ job
specs match what they do? And does the work get done in the way the
workflow documentation says it should? Ian Dewsnap of Benchmark
Consulting recommends a closer look at the
I recently had the
opportunity to work with a client organisation of around 80 people
where the managing director was quite taken aback when I said his
people didn’t have good job specifications and the desk procedures
didn’t really reflect the actual jobs being done.
Indeed, he was almost
insulted. But the reality was the employees were telling me, and
indeed showing me, that their job specs were outdated, no longer
reflecting what their actual responsibilities were, and, in a
couple of cases, job specs didn’t even exist.
Can you be sure that this
isn’t happening in your organisation?
What we often find is that
there are broadly three areas of documentation detailing what goes
on in any organisation. At one end, there are the procedures and
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With so many rules on money
laundering, legislation compliance, Consumer Credit Acts, and so
on, these are often the most accurate and up-to-date references,
because they have to be, provided they are maintained.
At the other end is the job
specification – a list of the responsibilities of the job, the
objectives of the role and the department, and perhaps a few other
things such as the level of authority the job carries, the job
grade, and the name of the person the job-holder reports
In organisations that are
undergoing major reorganisations, or which are significantly
stable, the job specs might be up to date.
However, in other cases, the
job specs might have been written years ago, and only updated when
someone has had to recruit for a position.
This might not a problem
provided everything is working OK and there is no reorganisation.
However, I do find employees have a better sense of where they fit
in if their job spec is clear.
It’s not uncommon for me to
hear: “What I do is not really reflected” and, “If I’m involved in
project or change management, this can be important.”
Interestingly, the third area
of documentation, desk procedures or workflows (process maps), fall
somewhere between the two others. These are not compliance manuals,
nor roles and responsibilities.
What these do is supply the
‘Ronseal’ approach to the work being done. They do exactly what it
says on the tin. They document the process flow, showing each step
to be taken to complete a particular process, which systems and
forms to be used, and perhaps detailing things such as the
decisions to be taken, the authorities needed for approval, and so
Of course, these can be very
detailed and reasonably high-level, but their function is to allow
the person doing the work (and anyone else who needs to be kept
informed, such as the internal audit function), to understand what
needs to be done. They have a clear start and end-point, the end of
the process often becoming the start for another.
Often in my role as a
consultant, I am given a workflow document and then sit next the
person doing the job and watch. Somewhere along the line, what is
actually being done won’t match what is written on the piece of
A new system or process step
will have been introduced (OK, that one is fair), something is no
longer done that way (a little less appealing) or I’m just given
the plain explanation: “Well I don’t do that way because I do it
this way instead.”
And people have said to me:
“I know I have a system which does this or that, and for which the
process documentation is fine, but actually I have my reasons for
doing everything differently outside the system and without process
All is scalable
All of this is, of course,
scalable, and needs to be addressed differently in an organisation
of 20 people, than in a far more complex one of 2,000. But isn’t
improving processes part of improving the business? And how do you
improve the process (or best measure the performance of a process)
if you don’t have good process flow documentation?
Change management is at least
predicated on knowing what happens now, before deciding to make
changes, and process modelling should be simple and easy to read.
But how do you do process modelling or workflows? Well, there’s no
one way to do it.
Whatever is produced, though,
needs to be simple to follow and to maintain. If it is not, then it
will not be useable by anyone other than the person who wrote
If any readers work for a large, bank-based, regulated
subsidiary organisation and think this article is crazy, describing
situations that just couldn’t happen to them… you know what, some
of you are right.