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How One-Sentence Job Descriptions can help you get back to basics

Business can become very complicated, especially as your business grows. But there’s a need to maintain simplicity amid all of the chaos. At this year’s Chick-fil-A Leadercast, author Andy Stanley talked about simplifying one of the most important tools we have in business — the job description.

Usually job descriptions are a page or several pages of different roles and responsibilities. And while job descriptions are still necessary, and the more descriptive, the better, it’s also important to be able to encapsulate what a person does in a one-sentence job description.

Despite its brevity, the one-sentence job description really packs a punch if you do it right. Consider it to be each employee’s personal elevator speech. When someone asks the employee, “What do you do?” he can fire right back with the “right” answer. But more important than that, the employee knows the “right” answer — and so does the boss — so everyone is on the same page.

For instance, as senior pastor of North Point Community Church, Stanley’s one-sentence job description is:

To inspire our staff and congregations to be fully engaged in our mission and strategy.

You can tell by this description that Stanley is a leader. There is nothing in here about being a doer. He is focused on the big picture and leading everyone else toward a common goal.

But the church’s CFO has a more hands-on job:

To create, implement and monitor systems that ensure our organization remains fiscally secure.

Stanley recommends that organizations should have one-sentence job descriptions for all of their employees because it helps provide clarity to  important questions:

  1. What am I doing?  When employees know what they are supposed to be doing, they are able to meet the demands of the job. Sometimes a long job description doesn’t give them a clear direction. So when things get complicated or tense, everyone can retreat to the question, “What am I doing?” and get back on track.
  2. Why am I doing this? You and your staff need to understand the “why” of your business. What would happen if your organization didn’t exist? What do you bring to the world? This answer to the “why” question needs to fight through the complexity of your organization and capture the hearts of the people who make up your organization.
  3. Where do I fit in? People need to know where they fit in and their unique contributions. Everyone should know the answer to, “What is the one thing I can do that no one else can do?”

So, who should write these one-sentence job descriptions? Well, Stanley didn’t specify that, but I was thinking at least two people — the boss and the employee. They should write the description separately and then compare notes. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how the two descriptions are aligned or misaligned? I think this exercise could spark some productive discussions and bring about real clarity.

As the leader of your business, what is your one-sentence job description? 

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