11th December 2019

What Can You Get Fired For?

While it’s not a great dinner party conversation starter, that question has become a key tool in our work in organisation design, recruiting and performance management. Once again though, it’s not a conversation starter. But, when used at the right time, it’s a catalyst for breakthrough thinking. More about that question and why and when we use it in a moment.

“Clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs and is vital to performance.” The Gallup Organisation

The WHY and the WHAT

In this age of competition, performance and cost pressure, no organisation can afford to have roles that are not targeted on the needs of the business. Or worse still, roles that are “all care and no responsibility”. Being crystal clear on WHY particular roles exist and WHAT is expected of them is a priority. Whether you are looking to review your organisation design, assess the effectiveness of your performance management practices, transform a key area of the business or on-board fresh talent.

In our experience

In our assignments, be it finding talent, consulting on organisation design or advising on performance management approaches, in order to establish ‘where things are’ we want to know who does what and how roles interact. Invariably, we ask to review Position Descriptions. Unsurprisingly, we mostly encounter documentation that is jargon heavy, woefully out of date, or simply a long list of tasks and activities. Worse still, all three. In short, they don’t tell us much about why the role exists or what the role is expected to deliver.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.” Albert Einstein

Building a base 

And there’s the rub. When you don’t have clarity on who is responsible for what, and how well they are performing against that responsibility, all recruitment, organisation design, performance management, employee development and workforce planning is operating from a flawed base.

Unfortunately, that base, the Position Description (though it goes by many names) has become a maligned construct in organisations. This is a failure of discipline by HR (though most HR people don’t seem to care). “Do we still need it?’ we hear HR people say. Imagine the uproar if Sales didn’t keep customer data relevant or if Finance lost control of the balance sheet.

HR needs to adopt a new mindset. It needs to let go of the connotations of forms and bureaucracy around the PD and start with the idea of building a platform. This is to ensure continuous clarity of expectations as the foundation of organisational performance and for the management and development of people.

“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” Brené Brown

Establishing a platform doesn’t need to be a massive undertaking

There are many opportunities to clarify what’s really expected of a role, such as when:

  • A job is recruited.
  • The performance of a business unit comes under scrutiny.
  • A department is being considered for restructuring.

It’s more about the thinking and discussion than the workload. A robust Position Description should be no more than 500 words and fit on less than one page.

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” David McCulloch

The Key Components of an Effective Position Description

Here’s what we believe are the must have components of a Position Description. Your organisation may want to add more, but just don’t leave out any of the following:


The Role Purpose is a one-sentence description of WHY the role exists. The Purpose describes how the role serves the organisation. A purpose statement is harder to craft than it looks. Let’s face it, if you can’t say why the job exists then you probably don’t need it in the first place.


The next key component is the three to five on-going deliverables the role is ultimately responsible for. Not to be confused with the tasks to be undertaken or KPI’s to be tracked. These deliverables should be core, outcome-oriented measures. Such as Revenue, Customer Acquisition, Profit and Market Share, etc.

If you’re having trouble getting clarity on outcomes for a role it’s time for that big, uncomfortable question. What could you get fired for? 

This question turns the conversation to the real deliverables. If your respondent is listing tasks or inputs as opposed to outcomes, again, the question is ‘Do you need the role?’


In multi-incumbent roles like Account Manager or Production Manager, the ongoing outcomes may be consistent over time. Therefore, it is important to be clear on the immediate challenges and outcomes this particular role must deliver in the next 12-18 months that differentiate this job from its peer roles.


There are two reasons why this needs to be clear. There are people who don’t want to make decisions for fear of being wrong and there are organisations that don’t trust their people to make decisions. In both cases this means a preponderance of meetings, buy-in sessions and bureaucratic approval processes. If you expect people to step up and use their skill and experience to make decisions within their remit, be clear about that or accept the consequences.

Likewise, decision authority must be clear if you are trying to attract talent to a role. In our experience, high performers want to get on with the job, so it is critical to be clear on decisions the role makes independently, including any financial delegation. Likewise, it is important to be clear up front on decisions the role makes in conjunction or consultation with others.


Most organisations will have their own competency model. This will probably end up stated in every position description. For the purposes of organisation design, selection and development, it is important to discriminate between those competencies that are regarded as the ‘price of entry’, versus the 3 – 5 competencies which will ‘make a difference’ in the performance of this role.


Could your organisation benefit from greater clarity in roles and expectations? From more people making decisions within their designated authority? From understanding the key capabilities that drive organisational success? If so, it might be time to invest in building a robust platform to ensure the continuous clarity of expectations.

If you’re not sure if your organisation would benefit from this, ask a few people; What could you get fired for? If you don’t get immediate, direct answers the chances are you need to do some work in this area. And of course, if you want some help getting started by all means get in touch and we’ll talk.

If you’d like to undertake a review of your accountabilities or simply use a whiteboard to bounce ideas around, get in touch. We’re always happy to help our clients and potential clients think through options and opportunities. We’re not lawyers so we never charge for brainstorming. Our intent is to help the HR Leaders grow and develop and through that process we’ll find out whether there is a good fit between what you need and value and what we do well. If there is, we can keep talking so that we bring you good choices. If not, we’ll be the first to say so.

Justin Miles

Justin Miles

Manager Partner, Melbourne at Generator Talent
Justin is the Managing Partner of our Melbourne office, an outcome focused leader with a track record of driving business performance through proven talent and organisation development practices. Justin’s methods and skills have been shaped by working with performance oriented leaders in great companies including PepsiCo, The Campbell Soup Company, Diageo, Rip Curl, Fonterra and Wesfarmers, in Australia, the USA and Latin America.
Justin Miles

Categories: Designing Organisations

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