Despite the fact that a sound job description is the basis for a meaningful compensation plan, all too often job descriptions are the weakest link in the connection between compensation and performance management, says Michele Whitehead, PHR. 

Not sure about your job descriptions? You can poll your people to find out where you stand, Whitehead suggests. She is a senior human resources consultant and manager of HR Services for Berkshire Associates, a provider of software products and consulting services, specializing in human resources and affirmative action. 

Several years ago, Whitehead says, a valued client conducted an employee opinion poll on the company's performance management program. The results were grim. 

There was an overwhelming consensus that employees were unclear about job expectations.  Equally bad, they believed that their job descriptions did not reflect the work they were actually performing.

If this scenario sounds all too familiar, or if your employee poll shows the same, consider reviewing the current state of your job descriptions, Whitehead says. Here are the things you might consider:

   •  Do you have job descriptions for every job?
   •  Are the descriptions consistent in format and content across departments, divisions, etc.?
   •  Are descriptions electronically accessible for easy upkeep?
   •  What is your process for creating or editing job descriptions?
   •  Do your job titles make sense?
   •  Are essential functions and qualifications included and current?
   •  Are you in violation of any compliance requirements?

If you conclude that your job descriptions are in need of an "extreme makeover," Whitehead says, you'll want to begin by conducting a comprehensive job analysis of each position.

This can be accomplished through a job analysis questionnaire. The questionnaire should be designed to identify the "compensable factors" that help you to quantify the relative value the job brings to your organization.

For example, one compensable factor that most companies pay for is a minimum level of education and experience, Whitehead says. Other compensable factors might include degree of autonomy, degree of problem solving, management of others, and working conditions.

Whitehead suggests that the questionnaire be written in a multiple choice format so that managers and/or job incumbents can choose the phrase that best describes how a particular job relates to each of the company's compensable factors.

Once the job analysis is complete, you will have a wealth of information at your fingertips to:

     1.  Write a comprehensive, up-to-date job description.
     2.  Conduct a job evaluation.
     3.  Conduct a market analysis.
     4.  Create or update your compensation structure.
     5.  Communicate job expectations for performance management.
     6.  Pay for performance.

Well-Written Job Descriptions Are the Basis

Without a doubt, a well-written job description will provide the necessary job-related criteria for fair and consistent performance evaluations and, subsequently, fair and equitable pay increases based on performance, Whitehead says. Performance evaluations become more meaningful, and the company will be better able to forecast pay increases and budgetary impact.

Fortunately, says Whitehead, the client mentioned earlier took its employees' feedback seriously and set out to rewrite all of the 1,000-plus job descriptions that were flawed. The new job descriptions provided the foundation of a revamped performance management process and compensation philosophy.

The end result was a high-tech, automated system for creating and updating job descriptions and conducting performance evaluations; a better-managed salary budget; and a successful link between the job descriptions, performance management, and compensation.

The moral of this story is, don't underestimate the value of a comprehensive and up-to-date job description when it comes to paying your employees fairly and equitably.

Reprinted with permission from HR Daily Advisor. Copyright 2009 Business and Legal Reports.  P•A•S Associates has expertise in human resources and other areas involving employment issues. P•A•S Associates, in providing this tip, does not represent that it is acting as an attorney or that it is giving any form of legal advice or legal opinion. P•A•S Associates recommends that before making any decision pertaining to human resource issues or employment issues, including the utilization of information contained on this website, the advice of legal counsel to determine the legal ramifications of the use of any such information be obtained.
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