By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston
the talk about performance consulting raises
many important issues—issues
about key job requirements, environmental factors,
and the suitability of training as the right solution
to a performance gap.
In my area of specialization, better business
writing, I often hear that people are
doing a poor job of writing something. Maybe they
can’t write good contracts or grant proposals
or job descriptions or call reports or policies.
Well, the interesting
thing is that right now I can’t write good
contracts, grant proposals, job descriptions, call
reports, or policies either, and I teach writing.
Do I Need a Class in Writing?
I know how to write well. I would be bored and frustrated
if I were sent to more training. No, if writing any
of those pieces were one of my key job responsibilities,
there would be something lacking in my environment.
What would be lacking are models and job
aids. I don’t have a model contract,
grant proposal, etc., to use as an example. Neither
do I have any guidelines on how to write them.
Nor do I have a series of steps to follow, a checklist,
a template, or a resource person to call with questions.
What I need is a writer’s tool kit.
tool kit is just that: a set of tools that help a writer complete
a specific task. That task may be to write procedures,
test results, performance appraisals, minutes,
proposals, specifications, marketing plans, or
assorted customer correspondence.
Advantages of a Tool Kit
imagine a scenario: You
have been called in by your boss, the director of
human resources, who asks you to design a workshop
on how to write job descriptions. It seems that beginning
July 1, all exempt employees will be rewriting,
or in many cases creating, their job descriptions.
Your boss says that the class shouldn’t
take more than an hour, since everyone is too
busy. Also, anyone in human resources should
be able to deliver it.
Is training the answer? Given
your organization and the details you uncover in
further discussion, you may decide that it is.
However, a writer’s tool kit is another viable
solution. It requires:
- No scrambling to schedule a training blitz by
- No absence of dozens
or hundreds of people from their jobs for
an hour or more—people
who are too busy on the job as it is.
- No pointless attendance at training for people
who basically know how to write job descriptions
advantage is that it’s a just-in-time
tool. Employees use it when they themselves
are ready to sit down to write.
a Writer’s Tool Kit
If you were to decide to use a tool kit
in this situation, you might take the
following steps to assemble it:
Choose several excellent
job descriptions to
include as models in the kit.
Write clear, direct
guidelines to supplement the models (for
example, “List from 3 to
10 of the most important things you do on the job”).
Include these guidelines right on the models if
you can do so without clutter. A list of Do’s
and Don’ts may also be useful.
Decide who will serve
as expert resources, and
include their names, phone extensions, and email
addresses. In this scenario, the experts will probably
be from HR, but they may include others. (Of course,
you would talk with each of the experts about their
potential involvement before including them.)
Talk with your colleagues
in HR about the most common mistakes made
in writing job descriptions. Include these
in a checklist, the way many companies
print reminders on their bill payment envelopes
(for example, “Did you include your title
Pilot your working
tool kit with several employees who match the target user group. Find out whether
any information is unclear and what kind of additional
aids would be helpful.
your company’s software sophistication,
you may wish to create templates that writers
fill in with the appropriate information. These
can be very effective in structuring writers’ thoughts.
Also, if your organization has an intranet, all
tool kit contents may be included there rather
than in hard copy.
Tool Kits: Not Always the Answer
kits aren’t always appropriate, of
course, and they can’t always stand alone.
In our scenario, for example, a tool kit would probably
fail if exempt employees did not understand the rationale
for rewriting or creating their job descriptions
and were not motivated to do so. Tool kits also fall
short when employees do not have the basic writing
skill the task requires.
tool kits: another possible solution to add
to our own tool kits as performance consultants.