The job description (JD), I think we can all agree, is an outdated concept. Yes, I say that as an HR professional, whose job many years ago involved writing those documents.
Sure, we still need a written agreement on the key areas of responsibility of a particular role. Very often, they are a useful starting point, during recruitment or the start of a role, to lay out a picture. But any working professional worth his or her salt will tell you that they are never restricted to what's written on the JD.
And rightly so. In today's VUCA world, where the parameters of what we do and the contexts in which we operate are more fluid than ever, most of us take on more and more. We react to the situation. I recently moved roles, and the priorities I put in place in October have evolved in the last six months - and I expect this to continue. So far, so good.
Except, the problem with putting aside the job description, is that we can start becoming slaves of our circumstances. Reacting to what's loudest and latest. Doing what our boss thinks is most important. Emulating what others who we think are good at their jobs are doing. And while that can be great at generating momentum, it's very easy to get lost in the minutia and lose sight of the big picture.
The answer, for me, has always been found in a simple but powerful concept in productivity literature, called the Areas of Focus. I'm using the term David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and all-around productivity-guru, does - but I've heard it named other things. In its simplest avatar, Areas of Focus refer to the different aspects or areas of your life (work and personal) that you have ongoing responsibility for or interest in. In the larger context of life, these could be Family, Finances, Household, Hobbies, Health, and Work.
But in asking myself a simple question: What are my current areas of focus in the role I currently do at work? - I sometimes get much more clarity than asking what I need to get done today, this week, or this month. Let me show you what I mean. I have an ongoing list of projects I'm working on at any given point in time, but I organise them basis my areas of focus at work, as seen below:
Articulating this doesn't mean I own every project - the P&O Operations bucket, for example, is almost exclusively full of projects delegated to someone else (often, a sub-function within the wider HR ecosystem). But having this list helps me in multiple ways:
Knowing what it is I actually have accountability for - and inspiring me to go beyond.
On paper, as an HR Head, my job description may be limited to critical strategic focus areas, like Talent, OD or Culture. But in actual fact, I have a total of eleven areas listed - places where my energy, time and leadership are required. Often, this is a reminder to look beyond the obvious - to enable and unlock the potential of the extended HR teams that run our operations or play a role beyond functional expertise as a part of the unit leadership team.
Choosing where to focus - Depending on the situation, a new area may appear, have minimal or many projects under it, or vanish - but looking at a list holistically helps me make active choices, every week, every quarter.
Contracting expectations, time and resources - If, for instance, 'Self Development’ is an area where I'm not spending enough time, it's an opportunity for me to reflect on how I can do better. Do I need more dedicated time? Or if, for instance, I have many projects suddenly piling into 'Rewards' as a category, is that an indication that I need more resourcing? Lastly, if an Area of Focus has no projects, does that mean it doesn't matter anymore, or it is a conscious choice on my part to deprioritise?
Having a robust performance conversation - Reviewing what's been achieved under each Area of Focus is often a great starting point for a quarterly performance discussion. It enables an honest chat about where time and focus have gone, what results have been achieved, and what direction the next quarter could take.
On the flip side, as a busy working professional, I find keeping a similar list at home is equally helpful - it reminds me to practice some amount of balance, and rounds off my personality a bit. Here's what my personal areas of focus look like:
The same principles apply. If I don't see any projects under an area, I know I'm neglecting it, and that's a useful reflection point as to why. Often, just seeing the heading (like 'Fun') is enough of a reminder to me to live a little and plan the next vacation soon enough!
In conclusion, I'm sure some of you reading, consider this an over-complication: Maybe your life is sorted, or you're in a role you've done for many years, enabling you to instinctively know where to focus time and energy. If so, more power to you, and my sincere compliments! For me, however, having a framework has always been helpful - and articulating the asks of a role at any given time is usually the first step in equipping myself for delivering strongly in it.
So, consider asking yourself a simple but powerful question: What are the areas of focus that I currently have responsibility for, at work or at home? Whip out a pen and paper and start by writing down what key projects you've been working on of late. Then, begin with the bucket - which projects are similar to one another, and what broad area would they represent? You may be surprised about what comes out - it may be quite different to the good old JD you started with! - but I can guarantee it'll lead to more clarity and choice-fulness.
So, what's my job again? My areas of focus, of course.