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Job Description or Fluid Role?

Before we really get stuck into performance management and what it comprises, we may want to acknowledge how some of those components of performance management systems as we knew them historically have changed.

No, make that transformed. It used to be that when you get employed, it is for a specific job, clearly defined and detailed in a job description, and that clearly defined job description was the basis of all conversations around how well we perform, where we fell short, what training we’d require, and how we could expect to grow with the business.

Back in those days, there was something called “any other duties that may be reasonably assigned”, and those ‘any others’ would be assigned within the scope of your primary job. What I mean for example is that, if I was employed as a Human Resource Officer, my any others would generally be within the scope of the HR function, even if not specifically mentioned in my JD.

If I was a Receptionist, my any others would fall within the scope of reception work, which may go as far as getting guests refreshments, classifying and delivering mail around the office, and maybe even going to the bank and post office…these would be viewed as messengerial duties that are similar to the “communication hub manager” role that a Receptionist ordinarily plays.

Well, let me admit before you point it out, that what is included in someone's ‘any others’ is at the discretion and upon the interpretation of the relevant supervisor. Ok.

We agree there, as long as whatever is ‘any other duties’ is not materially different from what was contained in the initial offer of employment, because if it is materially different, the employer would be in breach of contract and the employee could effectively resign summarily.

I say all this as an introduction to performance contracting, which is when performance management really starts. When we are going through the performance contracting process, you know, where we agree on the deliverables and applicable standards and procedures, resource availability, decision making scope, information management, reporting lines and organisational relationships, for instance, it is important that we as the employer and employee have a common understanding of what is on the table.

I may be sitting there thinking I am your new HR Manager responsible for everything from staff recruitment to their eventual retirement, meanwhile as the employer, you are thinking of me as your new Corporate Services Manager responsible for HR as well as office and facilities management, and maybe ICT.

The thing with this new-ish concept called the fluid role is that not many of us really get it, and more than that, given how many of us still grapple with old-school performance management, the new fluid approach thoroughly confuses

our approach to job evaluation, recruitment, goal setting and measurement – which means that the idea of equitable remuneration is also threatened by the new practice, or should we just call it a trend, and we will remain confused until the time comes when we can all agree how far and in what contexts to use the fluid approach.    

To my mind, even if the employer strategically keeps a small team where everyone is cross trained and expected to multi-task, it must be clear to everyone whose core mandate is what, because of the idea of accountability. Because of the idea of measurement.

I must know as the employee, what my actual job is, so that even as I multi-task and move fluidly between roles, availing my broad competency profile for the greater good of the business and the client, I know what I am actually expected to deliver on a daily.

If I am the Receptionist in a Sales department, and I know the products and their prices, and I have sold successfully, am I going to be given sales targets, and the same support in terms of tools of trade that other salespeople get? And if I don’t reach targets, will I be penalised, or will that be disregarded because sales and marketing is not my core job?

Will I get the commission like the sales people or will I just be left on my salary because I was not employed on a sales and commission structure? What if in pursuit of revenues the quality of receptionist duties declines? Will I be taken to task then?

Increasingly, employers, particularly in the private sector but not just them, are going the route of fluid roles. And where it works successfully it really is a win/win, because the employee does not feel confined to one monotonous job, but has the opportunity to explore and develop other skills.

Surely that is professional growth and can only enhance the employability and continued market relevance of the employee.

My issue, from a risk management perspective, is when fluidity brings in role ambiguity and conflicts that undermine performance at individual and team levels. So what Shameela? Ok, perhaps the employer should restrict the fluid part to 20% of the role, to enable performance contracting.

And if the employee enjoys the 20% more, or the business needs the employee more in the 20% role, perhaps we could consider a restructure of that job, that team, that department. So that the 20% becomes a whole role that an incumbent can be properly managed in.

The H.R. Dashboard



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