Fishing for More than Job Descriptions

Fishing for More than Job Descriptions

The summer Will turned 5, he and his dad planned their first fishing trip. And in the weeks leading up to their outing, Will’s father began describing all sorts of useful tips and details about the sport. Will hung on every word.

The pair practiced casting with pretend fishing rods, admired the contents of Will’s new tackle box, and talked about the reasons for choosing a lure of a certain color or shape. Will even got to try his hand at tying a fisherman’s knot.

Bill & His Grandfather Fishing in 1955

The Author & His Grandfather Fishing in Michigan, 1955

To the new little sportsman, these descriptive details began to define fishing. And they all pointed to one clear goal: catching fish.

Finally, the big day came. Out on the water for hours, father and son covered all of the lake’s best fishing spots, giving Will a chance to practice what he’d learned on shore.

But they didn’t catch a thing.

Will’s disappointment was total. But it was nothing compared to his complete surprise when they pulled the boat ashore and his mom came running out to greet them.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Fabulous!” his father replied.

What? Will thought. How can he say that when we caught nothing?

Later that evening, Will asked his dad to explain.

“Son,” his father smiled, “that’s why they call it fishing instead of catching.”

Fishing for the Vision

When Will’s father described fishing to his son, he clearly and accurately shared applicable details, tasks, and techniques. To the inexperienced boy, these specifics became a definition of what fishing was all about.

But in reality, Will’s dad had a vision of fishing that took precedence over his description—a vision that likely included camaraderie with his son, a quiet lake, the anticipation of a strike, and other experiential and emotional factors.

Fishing-QuoteRegardless of the empty stringer father and son returned with after that first day out, this vision had been fulfilled. So in the older man’s estimation, the day was a “fabulous” success.

But since dad didn’t communicate this vision clearly, Will was confused about the real purpose and meaning of their outing.

There’s a lesson here that applies to many professional circumstances. But today, we’ll look at one of the most common: the difference between a job vision and a job description.

Putting Vision to Work in the Hiring Process

I coach many clients through the process of filling open positions, interviewing, and selecting candidates. This is how these conversations often start:

Client (handing me a neatly-typed job description): Here’s what I’m looking for.
Me (not reading it): Okay, but what’s the job vision?
Client: Quizzical look
Me: Let me tell you a quick fishing story.

In sharing Will’s story (or a similar tale related to golf, biking, you name it), I explain that like these hobbies, jobs have descriptors that are an integral part of the activity: tasks, skills, practices, etc. that are familiar and relevant.

And dwarfed in importance by the job’s vision.

A job vision isn’t focused on the role’s associated activities, but rather on the outcomes that those activities will ideally produce.

In writing up a job description, we think about what needs to be done. But in creating a job vision, we ask bigger questions:

If this job were performed optimally…

  • What would it look like? Feel like? Sound like?
  • What would be different?
  • How would others be impacted?
  • How would the customer experience change?
  • The boss’s experience?
  • The suppliers?
  • Other team members?

An Example

A while back, a CEO handed me the job description that his HR department had written up for his administrative assistant. It was (quite rightly) filled with descriptions of software skills, phone-system proficiency, and familiarity with office equipment—as well as some familiar terms like detail oriented and team player.

So I set it down and asked him to picture how it would feel to have the ideal assistant. He had no trouble describing it:

“My day would be centered, more calm, and orderly. The office would be quieter, less panicked, and I would have reminders to get out of here for thinking time. The AA would take charge and be my partner.”

A bit different than the description of office-equipment skills, isn’t it?

What’s the big picture? Faxing proficiency, or keeping the CEO organized and motivated? A net full of fish or a childhood full of lakeside, father-son memories?

What’s the vision? Start with it. Interview with it. Hire with it. And let it change the game.

2 thoughts on “Fishing for More than Job Descriptions

  1. Kenneth W. Greene - April 28, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you, Bill, for your insightful thoughts on vision.


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