The pivotal role job descriptions (should) play in your talent management programs

The pivotal role job descriptions (should) play in your talent management programs

Do you have a job description? Do all the employees in your organization have job descriptions? Are they up-to-date? Unless you work in health care, the financial services sector, or for an ISO certified manufacturer, where job descriptions are mandatory, chances are you answered "no". Why? Because job descriptions can be difficult to create, update and manage, and many organizations don’t believe they provide any real value.

But job descriptions really should play a strategic and foundational role in all your talent management programs.

Expert consultant Dr. Gordon Medlock from HRIZONS says the paradigm for job descriptions is shifting.

Job descriptions
Old paradigm New paradigm

Job descriptions were:

  • Written to address recruiting, compensation and compliance requirements
  • Created and managed as MSWord documents
  • Rarely viewed by employees or managers
  • Not seen as relevant to ongoing performance management

Job descriptions are:


Job descriptions, along with competencies, are now playing a pivotal role in best-practice talent management programs, helping to ensure fairness and consistency in the programs and success for employees and the organization.

Why are job descriptions so important?

At a basic level, job descriptions are important because they:

  • Help identify the qualifications, skills, experience, and certifications/licenses needed by someone in the job
  • Clarify the expectations for someone working in a job
  • Together with competencies, help describe what it takes to be successful in a job

So they help you hire the right people for the job and successfully manage the performance and development of those already in the job. And they can help reduce legal risks because they clearly lay out and document job requirements.

But they can do a lot more than that...

Job descriptions and their impact on your talent management programs

Job descriptions help define the requirements and criteria that should be used to attract, deploy, assess, develop, promote, reward, engage and retain your talent.


Job descriptions identify the knowledge/skills/experience/certifications and describe the essential functions for a job that should be included in a job requisition. This means that your job requisition/posting can more accurately reflect the requirements of a role, and your recruiters can more easily identify suitable candidates. Further, job descriptions provide a more solid foundation for interview questions, and clear criteria for evaluating and selecting the right candidate for the job. Finally, job descriptions can help assure selected candidates that the job they've been interviewed and hired for is the one that they'll do. They also know, right from the start, what they need to do to succeed in the role. So it takes some of the uncertainty out of accepting a new job.


Job descriptions help set new employees up for success by clearly defining the knowledge/skills/experience/certifications they need to have or acquire for success on the job. They also clearly communicate the accountabilities and performance expectations for the job.

Performance management

Job descriptions define the criteria that an employee will be evaluated against. They should be used as input when creating performance appraisal forms, establishing goals, and assessing performance. The clarity they provide both managers and employees helps drive alignment, productivity, performance, satisfaction and engagement.

Learning and development

Job descriptions help identify the knowledge/skills/experience/ certifications required for success in a job. So they can help:

  • Learning and development teams define and develop a learning offering that meets the needs of the organization, as well as learning paths for development and progression in a specific role and/or area
  • Managers identify and address their employees’ performance gaps and learning needs
  • Employees see what knowledge/skills/experience/certifications they require for success in their current role or need to develop to move into a new role

Succession/talent pools

Because job descriptions identify what a person needs to be successful in a key role/area, they can help define the proficiency requirements for a talent pool. This again helps learning and development teams create curricula or learning paths that support career progression. It also helps employees and managers with career and development planning and decisions about role changes/promotions. Job descriptions also help succession managers evaluate the readiness and suitability of an employee in a talent pool for promotion.


Job descriptions make it easier for compensation teams to compare and grade jobs fairly and consistently, and define appropriate salary scales, making compensation more transparent and equitable.

Regulatory/standards compliance

Job descriptions also help organizations demonstrate compliance with a variety of laws and regulatory bodies, such as the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Joint Commission (JC), ISO 9001:2008, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, etc.

Overall, best-practice job descriptions help you ensure you have consistent, high quality data about performance so you can derive greater value from your talent management programs and systems.


In his teaching on the importance and value of job descriptions, Dr. Gordon Medlock says: Imagine trying to run a finance department without an accounting system in place? That's what it's like to run an HR department without a well designed job description infrastructure.

Job descriptions aren't just a "nice to have"; they are a critical, foundational tool that helps you develop and manage a high performing workforce, and support all your talent management programs.

Read how others are leveraging job descriptions in their organizations

At the Bank of Oak Ridge, every role in the organization now has a job description that reflects the competencies needed to succeed in the role. It helps them ensure employees and new hires have the right skills to succeed and create a performance-driven culture.

Methodist Hospitals turned to the Halogen TalentSpace™ to help digitize and manage their existing job descriptions and seamlessly link them to appraisal forms. It's helped improve performance and create more supportive employee-manager relationships.

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