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Critical accountabilities and performance management

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Job descriptions have many uses, the most obvious being to describe key responsibilities and serve as a basis for salary or pay. However, a job description has the potential to deliver far more than this.

Some see the job description as one of the implementation tools required to execute a solid business plan. It is the instrument that reflect that part of the business plan that the incumbent will be responsible for. For example, a Director of Finance or Chief Financial Officer will have responsibility for the production of financial statements. So the task becomes production of financial statements by the incumbent or someone else in the organization under the supervision of the Director of Finance or CFO. Along with the task, there is a need to define the attributes that the incumbent needs to have for successful performance.

This includes things like the knowledge, skills and ability to produce financial statements. Too often, the job description stops right there, without describing the critical accountabilities and standards of performance for the job.

Just as companies often specify key success factors, it is equally important to carry these into job description writing.  In the case described above, a task has been defined, along with the required knowledge, skills and abilities. A third dimension then becomes outlining the critical accountabilities for the job.  There is a prevailing view that there should be no more than 5 or 6 critical accountabilities for any job. The point of this is to boil the job down into a clear expression of priorities and expected standards of performance. In the case of the Director of Finance or CFO, these critical accountabilities could be outlined as follows, based on the company’s needs:

  1. Internal client service: service to individual line departments and the board
  2. Financial statement preparation
  3. Planning
  4. Human Resource Management
  5. Project Management
  6. Administration

Critical accountabilities are usually ranked by order of priority to the company.  For example, if internal client service is viewed as the most critical  accountability, this should be at the top of the list. This provides the incumbent with a very clear signal as to what is uppermost between competing priorities. Given another company’s situation, financial statement preparation could be viewed as the number one priority.

Once there is general agreement about what the priorities are, standards of performance can be developed.  For example, in the case of internal client service, standards of performance could include a budget process that is clear and easy to understand  for client departments and the board, effective advice and assistance when and as needed and a proactive approach to service provision. Performance can then be measured based on feedback from client departments and the board.

In  the case of financial statement preparation, things are often much easier to describe. For example, most companies have a firm cut-off date for receipt of financial statements.  They are expected to be accurate, comprehensive, and there is often the requirement for a variance report so that managers and board members do not have to duplicate effort by individually going through every detail.

In writing a job description, it is often helpful to think of it in three distinct parts. For example, one page that describes the job, a second page outlining the education, experience, skills, knowledge, abilities and personal attributes to perform the job, and any specific terms and conditions of employment, and a third page outlining the 5 or 6 critical accountabilities for the job with a description of what constitutes fully satisfactory performance.  When both the supervisor and the incumbent have a clear understanding of these three facets, the job description can become a solid base on which to build an effective performance management system tailored to the organization and the incumbent.

Amery Boyer
The Human Element, just a different way to manage

Amery Boyer

Amery Boyer, CHRP, MBA is a Human Resources professional with extensive experience in human resources, staffing and employee relations for both the private and public sectors and various levels of governments. She was a contributing editor of The Human Resources Advisor, Atlantic edition published by First Reference. Read more
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