Precious Arinze is a content marketer at MediaBerry who writes about marketing, technology, automation, and employee development for SaaS and B2B companies. When they are not strategizing and executing ideas on how to grow a brand using content as a vehicle for promotion, you'll find them laboring over poems and essays.
How to Write Meaningful Role Descriptions as a Foundation for Role Clarity and People Development
Your team is full of superstars and entry-level professionals with lots of potential and eagerness to get things done. Still, deadlines keep getting missed.
An important project has fallen through because no one would take ownership of it.
People are constantly debating over whose responsibility it is to handle this or that task. So, you find yourself having to personally assign duties to employees every day before they can get moving.
You're sick of holding meetings to address this situation and wondering what to do next.
We have the answer to your hurdles: clear role descriptions for every position in your company.
But that sure sounds easier said than done.
Learn how to create in-depth role descriptions for every position and communicate them to your team.
👩 What is a role description?
What comes to mind when many people think of role descriptions is the text written on job ads to explain what a position entails to potential candidates.
But a role description is more than something you create for hiring purposes and forget about once the role is filled.
It's a living, breathing document that provides clear information about the responsibilities an employee needs to handle while occupying a particular role.
Role descriptions help employers determine the best candidates for a given position and identify when a team member is outperforming or failing to meet job expectations.
It also helps employees gain role clarity by outlining:
- The work they will be accountable for.
- The skills and knowledge required to complete those tasks.
- How their position and activities contribute to the company's overall objectives and success.
- Who they will partner with to fulfill their responsibilities.
- To whom they will report.
🎁 5 Benefits of defining role responsibilities
Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of every team member can positively impact your company's operations in many ways.
1. Elimination of confusion
- When each employee understands the exact expectations for the daily scope of work, fewer distractions will steal time away from fulfilling their tasks.
- Rather than wondering what's on their to-do list for the day or waiting for a manager to assign them tasks, they can wake up every day and take charge of their work.
- They can create a plan to achieve their goals without being micromanaged.
- They can use their time wisely and focus on the specific relevant tasks, resulting in improved performance and productivity.
2. Increased job satisfaction and lower turnover
Employees who know exactly what is expected of them in their jobs are more likely to experience low levels of stress and tension.
They are also more confident in their abilities. The reason is that they know what they need to carry out the core tasks they are responsible for, even if it means picking up new skills or knowledge.
And when employees feel confident with their work and in the career progression path for their role, they will be less motivated to start looking for a new job elsewhere.
3. Team cohesion and success
Ambiguity around roles and responsibilities can limit the capacity of individuals and teams to function effectively, making it difficult or even impossible for them to reach shared goals.
Tasks will fall through the cracks because there's confusion over whom they belong to. But defining roles clearly and allocating them between team members will improve the overall team performance.
🤯 Is team performance something you're struggling with? 💡 Learn how to build high-performance teams in 8 steps.
4. Improved onboarding for new hires
New employees are already nervous about doing well in their new roles. So why not make the transition easier for them? How?
You can create in-depth role cards that establish exact expectations for the role and what success would look like in it.
As a result, you will help not only newbies but the whole team. Everyone will understand the newbies' roles and responsibilities and who should assist them if they need help with various tasks.
5. Reduced usage of company resources
Suppose no one is sure of what they are supposed to do. In that case, different employees can waste your company's time and money by working on the same tasks. Or, even worse, people work on tasks that are already complete.
Not to mention the interpersonal conflict that can arise from overlapping responsibilities.
Well-defined role descriptions help eliminate these operational inefficiencies and better manage human resources.
🕵️ Where to use role descriptions
Role descriptions are not a once-and-done affair.
There are many instances and use cases you can apply them to after creating them, such as:
- Job descriptions for recruitment ads.
- Performance management and reviews.
- Identifying learning gaps and designing training and development plans for specific roles.
- Plotting career growth and progression paths for positions within the organization.
- Assessment standards for evaluating potential hires and determining internal mobility for existing employees.
✍️ How to write role responsibilities for a job description in 8 easy steps
Follow these best practices to write role responsibilities for job descriptions that provide clarity for prospective candidates, new hires, and your internal teams and managers.
1. Involve the team managers and members
Depending on your background, you might not be able to define what a specific role entails fully.
Not many People Ops or non-technical managers can describe in detail what a full-stack engineer or a product marketing specialist does. And that's perfectly fine.
That's why you need all hands on deck to make your role descriptions meaningful and ensure they hit all the right marks.
So get the people managers, team leads, and other relevant roles to the position you're writing about to chip in. They can better explain why a role exists and the value it delivers day-to-day.
2. Add a job title and an overview of the role
Your company might have unique titles for specific roles—e.g., Chief Happiness Manager in place of Head of Human Resources.
But when describing that position for an external job posting, you might want to skip the company lingo and opt for a simple title that gives interested candidates a sense of what the job is about.
Follow up the job title with a three- to five-sentence summary highlighting the role's core purpose.
The summary can also include the main qualities the right candidate will possess, what makes the role important, and why your company is worth applying to.
3. Identify what the role will be accountable for
List out the roles' duties and responsibilities in bullet format and order of importance so it's easily scannable.
The responsibilities section should thoroughly cover:
- The day-to-day expectations for the role,
- The tools the employee will use,
- Whom they'll work with.
The goal is to help the employee understand:
- What they will be doing.
- How their position affects the company.
- How they will function as a part of company operations.
4. Specify the must-have skills vs. the nice-to-haves for the job
It might be tempting to require that the ideal person for a role has decades of experience, multiple degrees, and mastery over all relevant technology, including those yet to be invented.
However, asking for too many qualifications can significantly limit your talent pool or even cause the employees currently occupying the role to feel like imposters.
Be realistic when writing the criteria for a role and be clear about must-have skills for the job and skills that are desirable but not necessary right away.
You can come up with five to seven bullet points of must-have skills based on:
- the level of education;
- years of industry experience;
- certifications and licenses;
- technical skills;
- knowledge of the technological platforms that the role requires.
5. Describe what success in the role will look like
What will that mean if the person in this position meets and exceeds your business expectations?
Think about the outcomes you want to see as a result of the work a particular position puts in, then list them all out.
Defining what success looks like can help you and the role owner measure performance and create an actionable plan to get to the future you envisioned.
6. Outline to whom the role will report
While the chain of command may not be relevant for external job ads, it can benefit current employees who want to apply for internal postings.
By mapping out the hierarchy of roles, you'll make it easy for everyone to know who will report to them and whom they will report to.
You'll also be helping people see what their career progression could look like so they can start plotting how to advance.
7. Include information about salary, benefits, and location
If you are writing role responsibilities for job descriptions, it might be helpful to include details about:
- the salary range;
- company benefits;
- where the role is based or where employees can work.
Add this information if you're advertising non-executive positions to external candidates. It will save everyone's time and allow you to attract more qualified candidates who are satisfied with your offering.
8. Communicate them properly
After writing the job descriptions for your company's roles, don't forget to share them with the teams and individuals themselves.
Proper communication will ensure no disconnect between what People Ops or managers think a role or team should be doing and what the role or team actually does.
For easy access, consider publishing the description of job roles and responsibilities someplace where everyone can find it anytime they want.
🪜 6 Steps to writing growth-focused role descriptions that create clarity for everyone
As an early-stage startup, you might have gotten away with having a flat team structure where everyone does a little bit of everything and helps out in whatever capacity is needed each day.
But as your company grows, the lack of structure will do your business and employees more harm than good.
So there's a need to embrace transparency and create a real strategy for defining role descriptions and building career frameworks that are clear and optimized for growth.
These structure-driven role descriptions are in-depth when it comes to single competencies. This approach differs from job ads' role descriptions, which give a brief overview of a specific position's whys, whats, and hows.
Linking role descriptions with career frameworks will help employees figure out how to progress or grow horizontally, even if they are not interested in or heading for a manager track.
So how do you build out a role description strategy that improves role clarification, defines competencies, and supports employee development?
Start with these steps.
1. Write down your organizational goals
Using a role responsibilities framework will eliminate role confusion, reduce hiring and bias, develop team talent, and create a work environment grounded in merit.
Writing down what you want to achieve with your framework can help you decide how to structure it to further that purpose.
2. List out all the roles or levels within each team
Write down all the roles that make up each team in ascending hierarchical order.
Tip: Add each role once, even if you have multiple people in that position.
For example, if you have five junior content writers, you don't need to include the role five times, just once.
Alternatively, you can use a tiered system to:
- Break down every role into different levels.
- Show specific expectations for each level.
- Show how employees can progress from one level to another based on experience, expertise, and performance.
For example, Buffer's Engineering team uses a six-level framework to describe and assess the roles and responsibilities of Makers (non-managers).
3. Create relevant columns based on an existing framework or the vibe you want to reflect
The columns you create will guide how you arrange and structure the information in your role descriptions.
For example, Zavvy has ready-made career frameworks templates with role descriptions. These contain the position and level on one axis and competency models (core, functional and technical competencies) on the other axis.
Career paths and frameworks are an excellent framework for:
- Fleshing out competencies.
- Defining focus areas that can later on appear on development plans, promoting career growth in the company.
- Giving competency-based feedback.
As you can see, the sample role description for a Customer Success team features columns and rows for:
- role levels;
- core competencies, such as: problem solving and methodical thinking;
- functional competencies: such as being a trusted advisor and being a product expert.
When creating your own, you may decide to use:
- scope of work;
- supervision and reporting.
It all depends on the kind of information you want to include.
The more details about the role you write down, the greater the clarity it will bring.
Tip: Rather than spending weeks or even months creating your role descriptions from scratch, you can build upon existing templates already being used successfully by other companies.
All you have to do is edit and apply them to your company and team situation.
4. Identify the responsibilities of each role within the team
Whether you call it competencies, the scope of work, or responsibilities, it's essential to write down what you think are the core duties for each role.
If you're unsure what to include, research the role and list your key responsibilities.
It's always a good idea to include team leaders and members in this exercise to ensure that every role's responsibilities are adequately and accurately covered.
For example, you can host an in-person or virtual meeting to discuss each role and responsibility.
You can even create a shared document to collect insights.
For example, ask people in each role to write down their understanding of what they're responsible for and what they think are the responsibilities of the other roles in their team.
5. Evaluate role responsibilities
After you and everyone else writes down their thoughts, take the time to discuss the different perspectives.
If you notice that an area of responsibility belongs to more than one role, decide who will own it moving forward. So there are no more overlaps.
Find out if each role owner agrees or disagrees with other people's ideas about their role.
Tip: If someone in a given role doesn't accept that specific responsibilities belong to them, create an unassigned section and move those duties there. Then, have team members debate why specific roles can or cannot absorb the unassigned responsibilities.
At the end of the day, you might have to redefine some roles to include these unclaimed duties or create a new role responsible for them.
6. Use this information to fill out role description columns
It's time to enter all the details you have gathered about the various roles into appropriate columns and get buy-in from upper management.
Once you get their approval, you can share your newly-minted role descriptions with all relevant stakeholders.
📝 Free role description templates you can use
Do you want to create a job posting for a position you're hiring for?
Or you're thinking about designing comprehensive role cards that spell out what each role in a team does.
Check out these ready-to-use role description templates you can fill in whenever the need arises.
Role description template for job ads
Cracker Inc is one of the fastest-growing newsletter sponsorship platforms in the market. We help top brands like Apple, Spotify, and Netflix reach diverse and engaged audiences through sponsored email newsletters on leading publications.
We are looking for a versatile UI/UX designer to design and deliver excellent customer experiences and improve our product usability. In this role, you will work closely with a product designer and product manager to direct every aspect of our product development process from early concept to launch.
- Design, prototype, and iterate on new features and refresh the UI/UX of existing features.
- Develop design solutions through wireframes, sitemaps, mockups, storyboards, screen flows, and interactive prototypes.
- Leverage user data, testing, and stakeholder feedback to better understand user needs, workflows, and pain points.
- Work independently and closely with multiple teams to find elegant but practical solutions to design and usability challenges.
- Presenting and advocating for design needs and strategies to developers, the product team, and other stakeholders.
Requirements: Must-have skills
- Minimum of 3 years experience in UI/UX design for B2B and SaaS products.
- Competence in designing user flows, mockups, wireframes, and generating assets and specifications to integrate digital products across mobile and web.
- Ability to solicit user feedback directly with customers and indirectly through tracking customer usage and impact on sales through analytical tools like Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Salesforce/Copper is a plus.
- Experience working with a team to generate ideas, think critically and creatively about design projects, ship designs, and review results.
- Examples of high-quality visual and interactive design work in a design portfolio.
Reports to: The UX Designer will report to the Chief Product Officer.
Salary, benefits, and location:
- Salary is $90,000 - $110,000, commensurate with experience.
- Benefits include 100% coverage for health, dental, and vision insurance, 401K match, profit sharing, commuter benefits, company holidays, paid time off (PTO), performance-based bonus, and more.
- This is a remote position only open to candidates who reside in and are authorized to work in the U.S.
For competency profile and role cards
Here's an easy-to-use career framework template for a company is 50-200 employees.
All Zavvy customers automatically gain access to all of our templates.
You can use this template to break down and structure role expectations for various positions and teams.
🏢 4 Role description examples
There's nothing wrong with traditional role descriptions that focus on clarifying the individual roles within a team and explaining how one role progresses into the other. Here are some examples:
Associate Engineer role description
This Associate Engineer role description example created by FirstPort does a great job:
- Breaking down the primary responsibilities of the role.
- Explaining how the work is to be conducted.
- How the employee will collaborate and communicate with others.
Product Manager role description
This role description created by Liefery covers the core requirements, duties, expectations, and performance metrics for a level one product manager in detail. It leaves no room for ambiguity or confusion about what the position should achieve.
Some companies have unique systems for describing their roles because traditional role descriptions can sometimes be inadequate for their needs.
Here are some brilliant examples of companies with customized role-description strategies and career progression frameworks:
Kickstarter uses a ladder system for its role descriptions across various teams. The core duties for each role within the team, up to the final upper management position, are well-defined and described in clear and engaging prose.
The fintech company's role description framework groups the different roles and positions within departments into six levels.
Wise then provides detailed role specifications for each level and context about KPIs, leadership responsibilities, and necessary achievements before an employee can progress to the next level.
🌱 Create role clarity and kickstart more meaningful people development processes. With Zavvy
Role clarity doesn't happen overnight.
It takes intention and practice to create a work environment where team members understand what they are expected to do and what their teammates are accountable for.
Give your employees ownership of specific roles and responsibilities. Then watch them do their jobs with more confidence, efficiency, and timeliness.
As a result, they'll achieve more success than ever before.
Ready to create a culture of accountability and high performance?
Zavvy's AI-powered talent development platform can help you design clearly-defined role responsibilities for your entire team.
Get a free demo today.