There's no doubt that succession planning will be a top priority over the next few years. According to Pew Research Center, approximately 10,000 Boomers will enter retirement age every day for the next decade. Obviously, not all Boomers will leave the workforce at the same time. Some will opt for a phased retirement, creating an exit strategy that benefits them and the business. Others may reinvent their retirement by consulting or freelancing.
Phased retirement and contingent worker strategies are not substitutes for building a long-term talent pipeline. Succession planning still needs to happen. But, before companies can start thinking about their succession plans, they have to understand their jobs.
The role job descriptions play in succession planning
In Halogen Software's State of Succession Planning report, only 10 percent of respondents said they've prepared current job descriptions "very well" so the work ahead is clear.
If organizations want to be prepared for the future, they have to create succession plans. However, by definition, a succession plan is about understanding the components of jobs, the talent landscape, and bringing those together to fill future positions. Job descriptions are an essential first step.
The elements of a job description
A job description is defined as a formal statement of a job or position. In addition to succession planning, they're used for recruiting, performance management, training, compensation, etc. Job descriptions can have many formats, but most contain the same components:
Education and experience:
The job description identifies the minimum amount of education and experience required to do the job. This also includes any necessary certifications, credentials and professional licenses.
Knowledge, skills and abilities:
A job description outlines the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) required to perform the work. Knowledge can be acquired by either education or experience. Typically, the required skills and abilities must be proven or observable.
Physical and environmental working conditions:
Job descriptions typically outline the working conditions that an employee would be exposed to both inside and outside the office. They also outline the physical attributes necessary to complete the work (with or without accommodation).
Gathering information for job analysis
Since the finished job description is so widely used within the organization, accuracy is important. The best way to ensure job descriptions are accurate is by conducting a job analysis. Three common ways of gathering information for the job analysis involve:
Exactly as described, employees are interviewed about their job responsibilities. The advantage to using the interview method is that feedback is obtained from many sources, making the final job description very comprehensive. The disadvantage is that the method can be extremely time-consuming.
Observing the work:
Employees are observed doing their jobs while notes are made about the work being performed. This is an excellent method for routine or repetitive work. The disadvantage is that it's possible that the tasks which are not completed on a daily or somewhat regular basis could be omitted from the observation.
Completing a questionnaire:
Employees are asked to answer a series of questions regarding their job responsibilities. The advantage to this method is that it's very cost-effective. The downside is it relies heavily on employees being able to analyze their own jobs in order to complete the questionnaire.
The best method would be to find a way that combines more than one of these methods. That can be achieved using today's technology. It brings together the effectiveness of having every employee involved in the process. It captures not only routine tasks but those essential responsibilities that happen sporadically. Lastly, it brings together the detailed information that human resources professionals need without piles of paper.
The ongoing role and evolution of job descriptions
No conversation about job descriptions would be complete without a discussion about maintenance. In my opinion that can often be the hardest part. The organization makes a huge investment of time creating accurate job descriptions and then, unintentionally, lets them fall out of date. It's so difficult to bring back the same enthusiasm for the project.
That's where automation can really be a significant advantage. Technology creates an opportunity to keep job descriptions up-to-date on a regular basis. Job descriptions move from being a "project" to something that happens as part of the regular operation - which is exactly what needs to occur for succession planning to be successful.
Succession plans become easier to create and maintain when the information that feeds into the succession plan is easy to create and maintain. The best way to start is having complete and accurate job descriptions.