Job descriptions are a powerful planning, control and management tool for both the organisation and the individual employee. A job description sets the context before starting any new role. It sets out in detail your role as a team member and gives a point of focus so that you can make a unique contribution to the overall success of an organisation. The requirement for ‘focus’ is ultra-important for the startup business promoter. So a job description should be high on the list of priorities in the new business preparation phase.
This blogpost will outline a framework or template to assist in the writing of a job description for yourself as you set out on the entrepreneurial journey. I suggest that it should be at most 2 pages and should contain four elements: Job Summary; Duties/ Responsibilities; Objectives; and Skills/Experience. But before I look at each element in detail, I want to pose three questions?
# 1. Should you be your own boss?
A few years ago Brian O’Kane, Oak Tree Press wrote a fantastic book called ‘Could you be your own boss’. This blog post may touch on some of those issues but this is not the focal point of this post. I would like to take up the mantle after you have decided that you want to pursue your startup concept.
# 2. Who is the boss?
At a recent startup workshop, I asked participants to consider the question, ‘Who is the boss in a startup situation?’. The answers ranged from: Customers, the Market, Investors, Banks, other team members, and your immediate family. Everyone agreed that while ultimately the buck stops with you, you are most definitely accountable to other people.
# 3. What is the ‘role’ of the startup promoter?
Every business is different. Every startup promoter is different. But there are certainly common challenges to be faced by startups. Ash Maurya emphasizes that the ‘role’ of the startup promoter will evolve over time and depends on the stage of development of the business. when discussing ‘The 3 Stages of the Startup’ in the book ‘Running Lean’. This point is echoed by Steve Blank, co-author of the Startup Owner’s Manual.
The ‘Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development’ outlines 4 startup steps. These help to clarify the role of the team leading the startup at each step in Steve Blank’s Customer Development Model.
In the early stages:
- Customer Discovery and Customer Validation, a business is searching for a scalable business model. During Customer Discovery, the Business Model is outlined – assumptions regarding the 9 building blocks of the Lean Canvas. The focus of Customer Discovery is to establish that the business can deliver a product that solves a problem for an identifiable group of users. This requires development of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
- Customer Validation proves that the business has a repeatable, scalable business model that can deliver the volume of customers required to build a profitable company. During validation the company tests its ability to deliver a product, set pricing, and acquire customers on a larger scale. A Sales roadmap is then created and field tested by selling to early customers.
- The latter two stages; Customer or Company Creation and Company Building, is where the company builds on its early Sales success and transitions from a startup into a company with a formal business structure with the creation of functions required to manage a larger business to include: Sales & Marketing, Customer Service, IT, R&D, Finance, and Operations.
Writing your Job Description
A job description sets out the purpose of a job, where the job fits into the organisation structure, the main responsibilities of the job and the key tasks to be performed.
# 1. Job Summary
The job summary will echo the raison d’être of the business – its core value and mission. It will set out the core objective of the Founder’s role. From the lean startup movement this core objective should focus on building a scalable and repeatable business model. This section should be encapsulated in one short paragraph (3 lines).
# 2. Duties/ Responsibilities
This section may contain up to ten bullet points. The duties will generally embrace the management of: Product Development; Marketing; Finance; and Building a Team. The key point for a startup is to embrace ‘learning’. For example, under the marketing heading I would include a duty to identify and engage with early adopters. The primary responsibility is to test and validate the assumptions contained in the Business Model.
# 3. Objectives
This section will overlap somewhat with duties and responsibilities. It should be goal oriented. For example, the early adopter goal might specify a number of customers to engage with. The objectives should help identify the ‘key metrics’ to judge the progress made by the business over a defined period.
# 4. Skills/Experience
This section, normally associated with Recruitment, is equally important in the startup context. The startup team needs a balanced mix of sectoral, technical, commercial and startup skills. The startup promoter needs to specialise in at least one of these areas – few people can be strong in all areas. The founder’s interpersonal and team management skills are also important. It is good to document the skills, qualifications and track record of the team as these will be required in any business plan seeking external funding or support.
Related: When Your Small Business Isn’t Ready For You To Be CEO
I believe that the process of compiling a job description has several benefits for the startup promoter:
- Self Assessment – provides an opportunity to determine if you are the right person to set up this business. More importantly, an honest assessment will more than likely identify gaps in skills, qualifications, experience or contacts in your own profile that you can fill over time.
- Organisation – In defining their own role, the startup promoter is prompted to assess all members of the team and again identify gaps to be filled. It is good practice for a business to establish a culture where every member of the team has a job description. In the early stages there may be significant overlap in job roles and this will also have to be managed.
- Performance appraisal – the starting point for setting goals to be reviewed on a regular basis. You will know it is time to update your Job Description when you have achieved your goals and the business is moving to the next stage in the Customer Development Model.
I believe that a ‘Job Description’ is a very useful business planning tool for every startup. I would be delighted to hear what the Tweak Your Business Community thinks, particularly from people with direct experience of starting a growth oriented business.
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