What’s your job on the farm?

Don’t assume that everyone on your farm knows his or her job. Try this exercise, and you will be surprised.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of having a clear chain of command in a business, where every employee knows who he or she reports to. As I said, it’s amazing how many employees are vague about this – and when this clarity is lacking, it’s usually mirrored by the poor performance of the organisation.

Another ominous omen is disagreement on who is responsible for what. If you ever hear someone saying, “That’s not my job” or “Stop interfering in my area”, it’s a sign of bad management, and you can be sure that bad business performance follows close behind.

A good business team must operate like a great rugby team. While every member is selected for the position best matching his particular strength, talent and passion, everyone can cover for the other (for a while) when the need arises. But unless each player is clear about what is expected of him in his usual team position, it’s chaos.

In small organisations with only a few employees, confusion about job roles seldom arises. But as the business grows
and staff numbers rise, an informal approach to deciding who does what starts causing problems. If this is happening to you, it’s time to manage the situation more professionally, and that means ‘job descriptions’.

Real value
The real value of writing a job description is the fact that it involves discussion between boss and subordinate. This is what serves to clear up any confusion. Prepare a template, no longer than a single A4 page, which includes the following sections:

  • Name: Full name of the incumbent in the job.
  • Job title: Formal title for the position.
  • Reports to: Title and name of the person to whom the incumbent reports.
  • Job purpose: A brief description of the position, why it exists, and what it is meant to accomplish. Four short sentences only!
  • Qualifications: The minimum qualifications required – education, special skills, personal characteristics, professional certification and experience.
  • Working conditions: Circumstances such as regular evening and weekend work, shift work, travel and so forth.
  • Physical conditions: Is it a physically demanding job that involves, for example, regular lifting of heavy objects?
  • Duties and responsibilities: Identify no more than six primary duties and responsibilities for the position, and list them in order of importance. While being quite clear about the tasks required, try to build in some flexibility that encourages work ‘outside the box’ and discourages a ‘that’s not my job’ attitude.

Use qualifiers to clarify the task, such as where, when, how often, and how. For example, not only ‘receive and greet visitors’, but ‘receive and greet visitors in a professional and friendly manner’.

Direct reports: List by job title any positions to be supervised directly by the incumbent.

Now things get interesting. Hand a copy of the template to all the staff who report directly to you, and ask them to complete it. Then complete one yourself, showing how you see each job.

More productive

Follow up with a meeting where you discuss the differences between the two job descriptions, and resolve them into one agreed-upon document. This is where you extract most value from the exercise. Don’t rush it.

Before you part, set a date one year hence when you will meet again to review the job description and update it as necessary.

You’ll be in for some surprises, but once you’ve completed this exercise you’ll have a smoother running, more productive business.

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant with 30 years’ farming experience.