What the Heck Do All Your Employees Do?

If you can’t clearly define job duties, neither can your workers. Here’s a crash course in assigning job titles.
What the Heck Do All Your Employees Do?
If your company expands, like Jim Dandy Sewer & Plumbing, you might need to do some retraining or hiring to round out your staff to define job duties.

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When Scott Spencer took over Jim Dandy Sewer & Plumbing in Seattle at the end of 2012, he found a company with no real corporate structure. That was a problem, because there were two sides to the business that required very different skill sets.

“There were no actual job descriptions, so I created management and service level job descriptions for plumbing and excavation,” he recalls. “The plumbing manager had been crossing over into excavation work. Excavators would come over and grab the jetter without knowing how to operate it, and that can be dangerous. 

“My responsibility is to make sure everyone goes home safely at the end of the day, so now we keep all that separate at the dispatch stage.” 

Spell it out

When he first arrived at Jim Dandy, Spencer sat back, watched what was going on, then got busy writing job descriptions with enough detail to clearly delineate what was — and sometimes more importantly, what wasn’t — part of each position’s duties. 

Spencer has proven himself a flexible boss in surmounting the many challenges of recreating a small business, but he draws a hard line when it come to corporate hierarchy. 

“It creates chaos to have no structure,” he says. “I’m not saying a job description will remove that chaos, but you have to start with everyone understanding what’s expected of them. Bottom line, they have more guidance. They want to do a good job, and will generally do what we ask.” 

When the company was smaller, the excavation manager also acted as sales manager, but now Spencer has split out those two functions to maximize efficiency for each department. 

“As you grow, you have to redefine your objectives and tailor your operation to provide a template for your management and staff, so they’re more focused on their particular functions,” he explains. “I just bought a related business, and we now have defined job descriptions, but the ones we inherited didn’t define any job tasks and goals.”

For instance, a sales manager had gotten involved in project management and installation, instead of concentrating on estimating and sales, the function most valuable in generating business. He needed a simplified job description, to understand what’s expected of him and how to prioritize tasks. 

Build on the basics

Spencer suggests two key components to creating appropriate job titles and descriptions: 

Number one is realizing which work you want to do, then creating separate positions and descriptions that support the work. For a drain cleaning operation, there’s sewer, drain, plumbing and excavation. 

“We don’t like to cross those two sides of the house, because there’s important expertise on both sides,” he says. “There’s dangerous equipment that requires licensing, training and knowledge. Crossing those over is a recipe for disaster; that’s just chasing the buck.” 

Second is ascertaining your team’s capabilities, then segregating tasks according to skill sets. You may have to do some retraining or hiring to round out your staff. Spencer admits it’s tempting to save time by having employees cross over to what may seem like simple tasks not in their job description, but it’s dangerous to put untrained people on some equipment. 

“For example, we have a boring machine,” Spencer says. “Excavators do that part, and then a plumber comes out to do the tie-in. It may take more time up front in legwork, but the damage that could happen by not doing it properly far outweighs that bit of extra administration. If things aren’t done right by capable people — say, a non-plumber installing a wrong connection — not only can it be dangerous, it can be costly.” 

In short, know your business, know your people, then train and allocate those human resources accordingly.


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