Role Agreements, Not Job Descriptions


When hiring staff, many people use ‘job descriptions’ to define what the person will do. I’ve found this way too limiting; both in practice and in concept. It restricts the way a person thinks about their job. When I hire people, I tell them that there will not be a job description, but rather a role agreement. The role agreement is our agreement as to that person’s role in my organization, and my role as their employer.

Here are the three major parts of the agreement.

  1. What you are paid to do.

This section describes the OUTCOME they are paid to produce. Not merely the functions they will perform, but rather the REASON that the functions matter. If you are in sales, your job is not making sales (that’s merely an event), instead it is: Building a profitable clientele for my company. What that means is: You are paid to find people who we can help at a profit, and establish an ongoing trusting relationship between us and them so that we get, not just some of their business, but all of it over time.

If you are my administrative assistant or secretary then your role is to make me more effective. That involves many things, but the outcome desired is for me to be more productive and effective in what I do. See the difference?

  1. Your Areas of Responsibility. 

This is a list of the categories in which I expect you to be productive. So now we are narrowing your focus to allow you to concentrate on the areas that you can best influence. In sales this includes: prospecting, networking, assisting with marketing, making new contacts, maintaining and managing communication with customers, etc. What it does not include is interfering in other people’s jobs, although collaboration and contributing new ideas is always welcomed. For my assistant, the areas of responsibility end where my private life begins. Get it?

  1. Our expectations of each other. 

This is like a balance sheet with my expectations of you on one side, and your expectations of me on the other. Your list might include: Be paid on time, have access to me  at all reasonable times, have the right tools available for you to do your job well, tell you the truth, listen to your ideas and consider them, provide a decent work place for you, provide access to learning opportunities, etc.

My expectations of you might include: Show up on time, do a full day’s work, tell me the truth, keep company and my personal information confidential, continually improve your value to the company, behave in a respectful and professional manner, etc.

Then I tell the person, “If there is ever a time I’m not keeping my end of our agreement, you are welcome to make a copy of this agreement, circle the item you’d like to discuss, and hand it to me with the request, ‘I’d like to talk about this.'” I will do the same.

Once we both feel good about the agreement, we’ll sign it and each get a copy. This becomes my primary tool for managing our business relationship. Notice the difference between an agreement like this one vs. a list of job duties? It is a profound difference and is much more practical when it comes to actually encouraging the right kind of work, in the right kind of way.

Jim Cathcart

Jim Cathcart

CEO & President at Cathcart Institute, Inc.
Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, is the original author of “Relationship Selling,” and 15 other business books. He is past president of NSA and recipient of our industry's top awards.
Jim Cathcart
Jim Cathcart
Jim Cathcart
Jim Cathcart

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