(Originally published in No Shortage of Work)
About a decade ago someone in accounting, or personnel, or wherever, asked me for job titles.
I said, “We don’t have job titles in our group.”
She went away.
Soon she was back saying that a new policy required that we have job titles, and that I had to give them some.
I said, “I can’t think of any.”
She said, “Make something up.”
I said, “OK, we’re all Senior Executive Vice Presidents.”
She went away.
She was back the following day saying, “Those titles won’t do. Nobody in your group is a vice president, senior, executive, or otherwise. Besides, we need functional titles.”
“As opposed to bullshit ones?” I asked.
She didn’t laugh but waited around until I came up with some stuff… Group Head (me), Analyst, Programmer, Trader … make that Senior Trader (never mind that we don’t have any junior ones)… I don’t remember and don’t care, although I can now find out if need be by asking everyone in my group for their new business cards.
Since our first day in the mid-1990’s, we have had a daily checklist, similar to what pilots find in airplane cockpits and janitors find on bathroom walls: do this by 8:15, start that computer before this one, run that program, file this report by 5:00, etc. The checklist gets updated as needed and has gone from perhaps 15 items to over 50 in 16 years.
A while ago our organization was restructured to come under a German parent, which meant thatnow we became subject to new regulators and rules. Auditors from Frankfurt arrived and were very impressed at the length and detail of our check-list, and apparently it got a glowing stamp of approval.
But they were back, and with a frown, said, “We can’t find your job descriptions.”
I said, “That’s because we don’t have any.”
“That won’t do; how can you run a business like that?”
I pointed out that we’d been doing fine for over a decade, but they would have none of it, and demanded something pronto.
I said, “We all do what needs to be done.”
They were not amused. They gave me a sample of what they wanted that looked like a checklist for somebody else. I complained to someone in compliance, and she explained that we must now comply with new German risk rules that require detailed job descriptions, among other things.
So we complied and divided up the checklist, assigning things by who does what. They were satisfied and went away.
However, the German regulators, (who are “principles based,” rather than “rules based” as are the regulators in the USA), our management, and everyone in our group all know that compliance with rules isn’t enough, and faithfully following a task list alone isn’t really doing your job.
We have a mission statement specific to our group which states, “Our goal as a group is to act such that every person associated with our endeavor will feel that at the end of the day they were better for it.”
We have a detailed document itemizing who exactly those people are, and we update it when stakeholders change. We document our principles and values, and update them too, although infrequently, since they seldom change. We have procedure manuals that remind us of how to do things, policy manuals that tell us what and why, and checklists that help us remember when to do things, and document when we forget.
But a job description is not doing its job if it only lists tasks better itemized in a checklist.
In essence, we all have only one job description, and that is “to care.”
All jobs and their descriptions must begin with an understanding of what it means to care, about what, and for whom.