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Making Life Simpler with Job Specifications

A great management tool for any business

In this column last month, we discussed writing policies (the rules), procedures (how to do things), and job descriptions for everyone in your business from the owner to the part time employee.  This month, we take another step in developing the tools that assist a retailer in maximizing profits and the talents of their employees.

Attend an event such as a trade show, and ask several retailers to tell you what new things are being done in their business.  While you will find retailers that will gladly volunteer stories of their latest achievements, you will undoubtedly hear someone say, "I want to do that, but there just aren't enough hours in the day for me to get that done."

This statement in itself is probably the best reason for deciding to implement these tools. Granted, they are going to take some time.  But from many years of personal experience, we can assure you the investment today will go a long way to eliminating those repeated questions and interruptions that you face.  And with the time that you will then find available to you, you will be the retailer that is explaining the new things he or she has developed in their store.

Our topic for this month will be job specifications, which are the written instructions of how to perform jobs.  As you continually strive to make your store a more profitable and efficient business, you recognize that it is the ability of your employees to handle the repetitive jobs that will determine what you accomplish overall.

As compared to job descriptions, which you would have written for every position within your business, there may be jobs that you will not have job specifications for.  Some of the most likely jobs that would have specifications, would be your cashier, back room personnel, office manager, and certain aspects of the job of sales person.

From the experiences that we had in store ownership, we found three major benefits from the creation and usage of job specifications.  Those are:  1.  New employees were more productive in a shorter time span.  2.  Many aspects of our repetitive supervision of employees were eliminated, thus allowing our time to become more productive.  3.  Problems were not only solved quicker, but many problems were repeated less frequently.

Job specifications allow you to detail the performance of a job from beginning to end.  While we have often heard someone mention their store was too basic to have a need for job specifications, we remember hearing the president of one of the major hotel chains state that the job specification for the daily cleaning of each guest room had 161 points to observe.

Job specifications can go a long way in allowing your employees to resolve problems to your satisfaction.  Perhaps with a cashier you could have the job specification detail the options available when a customer returns a product without a receipt.  Or for a warehouse person receiving a delivery in which there is an overage or damaged goods, you could give enough information so that you would not have to be personally involved in each situation.

When the situation is outside the bounds of the job specification, or is in excess of the dollar authorization given, you will probably have that person check with the supervisor on duty.

Creating a job specification begins by having management review the job description.  Notes should then be made as to what particular aspects of the job description need further information.

When we created a job specification, we gave a copy to the appropriate employee and asked for their input.  As we implemented the job specification, it was agreed there would be a collective review of our efforts after 30 days of usage.

And after the 30 day review, a written copy was posted in the appropriate work area, and a copy was added to the booklet where we had been assembling all of the other tools.

You will also want to determine for many of the tasks how long that particular job should take to complete.  For example, we decided that our warehouse personnel should spend at least 20 minutes each week to resolve the merchandise that is defective or returned in a manner that does not allow us to sell it again.

This also becomes important with situations like receiving and checking in merchandise, and demonstrates the pace at which you expect work to be completed.

For a cashier, the job description of handling transactions would surely have need for a written explanation.  It may seem difficult to write out the details of a bank card transaction.  But, it is definitely easier than having to explain to each new cashier how to perform this task.  With the written instructions, your best cashier will be able to easily train a new employee because the cashier will have the written job specifications to use as a guideline.

And you expect to be real excited when a new cashier asks to take a copy of the job specification home so they can reread it that night.

Creating job specifications, like all of the other management tools, will be an ongoing process.  Again, the best help available in this refining process will be your supervisors, and the individuals performing the particular job.  Repeated management studies have shown there is the highest level of employee participation when the employees are asked for their input, and allowed to be a part of decision making.

Today, if you were to open a new store, one of the many decisions you would make would be what type of tools, Bibles, reference books, and tapes, you should stock for your customers to use in their walk of faith.  And a job specification is one of the many tools that you should stock for yourself and your profitability. 

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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