Part 1 of a 2-part series on how to develop good job descriptions.

Keeping a team on task means being clear about expectations. Taking the time to write job descriptions can help keep your team focused and accountable.

Job descriptions can help create clear systems that keep your practice running smoothly, says Sandra Bekhor, president of Bekhor Management in Toronto: “Everyone understands what their role is so you don’t have confusion.”

Job descriptions can range from simple lists to detailed manuals but here are a few elements they should all include.

What’s the purpose of the role?
To write a good job description you need to identify the purpose of the position. To figure out why this role is necessary to your business ask yourself why it exists, what it will achieve and specify the goals and targets you want to achieve, says Cissy Pau, principal consultant of Clear HR Consulting Inc. in Vancouver.

The job description must answer a simple question — what do you do? “What are the tasks that need to be accomplished on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?” says Mark Wardell, president of Wardell Professional Development in Toronto.

Explain expectations
To make the outline more effective, include the expectations of the role. Pau uses the example of a filing job. Explain when the filing needs to be completed and how much filing the employee can expect in a day. “You can train employees to the expectation and evaluate them against that expectation.”

Skills and qualifications
Identify the crucial skills and abilities necessary for the job. Make a distinction between ‘must-have’ and ‘nice-to-have’ skills, says Pau. The ‘must-have’ skills are the “deal-breakers” that decide whether you will hire a person or not, such as whether they require a university degree. “If you identify those ‘must-haves’ it helps you evaluate the resumes that come in because you can screen them more easily.”

Reporting structure
An effective job description identifies the people the employee will be working with. Reporting lines should be clearly stated, both up and down the reporting structure, says Pau. As well, be clear if the employee is required to work with other team members or departments.

Time management
Be clear about time-management expectations in the job description. For example, if the description is broken up into categories such as management, administrative or planning you need to explain what the balance is between the three, says Bekhor. “You could have a list of ten items but maybe 90% of your time is spent on the first item.”

Work with your team
Whether it’s a job description for a new role or a current one, include your team when writing it out. Taking the time to brainstorm with your team and evaluating their roles will clarify the responsibilities of the new position, Bekhor says: “If you’re writing it yourself you may not understand the details of the job and how it gets done.”

Working with your team will also keep the role relevant and flexible. “If you’ve got a good culture, then your employees are not afraid to say: “This is not working. Let’s try this a different way,” says Wardell. “That’s the ideal situation.”

This is the first in a two-part series on writing job descriptions.