As you look for people for jobs or jobs for people, recognize that every job and every business function has a dominant purpose. Typically it's either to help grow the company or to help make it run more smoothly. When it comes to hiring, trouble often follows when these two purposes are either overlooked or good people are hired for the wrong jobs.

One simple way to add purpose to the job is by tying it directly to the primary business purpose of the function. Here's how the major business functions can be assigned to either a growth or profitability category.

Functions Focused on Growing the Company

Increase Market Share, Customer Satisfaction and Revenue

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Product Development
  • R&D

Functions Focused on Running the Company

Increase Profitability and Efficiency

  • Operations--Distribution--Manufacturing
  • Accounting and Finance
  • Information Systems
  • Product Engineering and Design
  • HR and Administration

Adding purpose to your open jobs starts by putting the traditional job description into the parking lot for about 30 minutes. Since most job descriptions list skills, experiences and competencies, they're actually not job descriptions at all; they're people descriptions. By defining the work itself before defining the person doing the work, the purpose of the work becomes crystal clear. This is important for both attraction and selection purposes. As Harvard professor Todd Rose points out in his new book, The End of Average, not doing this before the person is hired is the root cause of why many good people underperform.

Defining the work itself starts by asking the hiring manager the following questions. Job seekers can ask the same ones at the beginning of every interview if they believe they're being assessed on generic or invalid criteria.

Questions to Define the Work Itself--Not the People Doing the Work

Identify the primary purpose. What's the most important thing the person in this role needs to achieve, do or accomplish in order to be considered successful?

The primary purpose needs to be a performance objective with an action verb, a description of the task and a deliverable. For example, for an accounting manager, it could be, "Work with logistics and IT to lead the upgrade of the the financial reporting system to identify key gaps in achieving 99.9% on-time deliveries." This is clearly an operational efficiency objective.

For a product marketing person the purpose would be related to growing the company. Here's an example of a performance objective that captures this: "Working closely with R&D and the product design group, lead the development of the three-year product roadmap."

Identify the key subtasks. What are the key subtasks required to achieve the primary purpose of the job?

Every job involves a series of steps like problem-solving, planning, organization and implementation. The first step for the product marketing example could be, "Prepare a report addressing the technical challenges involved with upgrading the product line to surpass current industry trends." For the accounting manager it could be, "Prepare a Pareto analysis identifying the primary causes of billing and delivery delays."

Retrieve the traditional job description from the parking lot. Once you've developed four or five performance objectives it's time to review the skills, competencies and experiences listed on the original job description. Highlight the most important of these and for each one ask, "Is this factor already included in one of the other performance objectives and if not, how is it used on the job?"

In both examples above, team and collaboration skills are clearly evident. Assuming strong communication skills was an important competency but not already captured, a performance objective for the accounting manager could be something like, "Lead the monthly operational review of the project status to the executive team." It's much easier to assess any generic competency by describing it in the actual context of the job.

A competency like "results-oriented" for the product marketing person might be something like, "On time launches are essential for product success and the person in this role needs to persuade and push the development team to meet all of its commitments."

Adding purpose to your jobs starts by understanding the work involved and what it takes to be successful in the role. Without this insight, it's problematic if anyone will be motivated, satisfied or successful after they're hired if these factors are not evaluated before they're hired. This has been proven repeatedly over the past 20 years in Gallup's Q12 research, Google's Project Oxygen and Professor Rose's recent work on the factors driving human performance. Tying these objectives to the bigger purpose of the job is how you both attract the best people and keep them motivated after they're hired.