I hate to disagree with another Shoestring blogger, but Natasha Hawker is wrong.
I have a lot of respect for Natasha, but when she wrote yesterday about [the importance of position descriptions] (https://www.shoestring.com.au/2013/02/employees-what-the-pd-and-i-dont-mean-sex-education/), she was giving bad advice to startups.
Sure, if you’re a massive company with seventeen levels of management and an HR department then you can afford to write ten page documents about how many coffee breaks each person is allowed. But for a startup, that’s not just a waste of time, it’s actually counter-productive.
See, in a startup, your first few employees – say five or ten – are hired for flexibility. You need them to be go-getters who are focused on making the business better, not straight-laced process fanatics who know exactly what their duties are and what they aren’t.
Here’s how it goes. You take the leap and start your business. It begins to get a bit of traction and you’re ready to hire someone – but what role fits in best? Do you hire in marketing, in business development or in customer support? The “position description” driven process says you choose one of these areas and find the best person for it. And then that person does that job and that job only.
But what if you hire a customer support gun and there aren’t enough tickets coming in? Or what if the business pivots to become more B2B? The customer support person will just be sitting there while you continue to jump from task to task. You’ll ask them to pitch in and help, and because they’ve got a nice PD that says exactly what they can and can’t do, they refer to that and say “not my problem”
What you actually want to do is to hire someone who’s really flexible and willing to try anything. Even if they haven’t got perfect skills up front, that flexibility will pay off many times over. The company will pivot, staffing needs will change, people will be hired or fired and throughout it all your flexible employee is switching around with the best interests of the company at heart.
Natasha’s argument was that your team won’t know what to do if it isn’t written down. Respectfully, that’s crap. If your team don’t know what’s expected of them, that’s because you’re not communicating well enough. Writing down something that’s true at a brief point in time won’t help that, because situations change fast in startup land and you need to keep communicating the company goals. This is a daily thing, weekly at the outside. A position description can’t possibly keep up with that.
So, absolutely, make sure people know what’s expected of them. But when you’re hiring, look for smart all-rounders who are willing to work hard. And if they ask for the formal job description up front, end the interview then and there.