From vision to plant-floor practice

Tom Moriarty says use job descriptions to let employees know what's expected.

By Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor

One of our clients was hiring tradesmen to fill positions based on years of experience in the trade. The client didn’t mention the need for computer skills to allow tradesmen to close work orders. This makes efficient work management process improvements more difficult.

How does an organization define its expectations for what it needs people to be doing? Most often, when we evaluate an organization, we ask people at various levels of the organization what their jobs are. Typically, they rattle off a series of tasks that they perform routinely and perhaps some things they do from time to time. To be sure, people get nervous when an outsider with a clipboard and white visitor’s hardhat starts asking questions about job descriptions. They start to think they should exaggerate the content or importance of what they do so that it will make their job seem indispensable.

Develop a set of tangible objectives from the vision of what the organization intends to achieve.

In fact what we’re doing is gathering information from the workforce and supervisors about what they perceive their job to be. Either before or after asking such questions we look for documentation on how that person’s roles and responsibilities are defined. Typically, we find one of two situations. The first and most common is that the documented roles and responsibilities of that person’s position are non-existent, weakly defined, or grossly out of date. In the second situation, the roles and responsibilities are well-defined and up to date, but because of the “unique” qualities of people in the workforce or supervisors, people aren’t held accountable for the defined roles and responsibilities. In effect, the position descriptions are informal and based on the individual.

What problems arise when actual roles and responsibilities aren’t defined or differ from the documented definitions? First, when there are no definitions, people can’t be held accountable for performance, or rewarded properly for consistent performance that’s aligned with their role and responsibilities. People need feedback for both conforming and non-conforming behaviors. Second, if there’s no accountability, processes will be out of control. There would be no steady-state performance level that can be analyzed for improvement opportunities and optimized.

Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School, retired as a Lt. CommanderTom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman, having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years; earned a commission through Officer Candidate School; and retired as a Lt. Commander. During his final year of service, 2003, Tom was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). He is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College, and an MBA from Florida Institute of Technology; Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in Florida and Virginia, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at

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What’s the proper way to define position descriptions that include roles and responsibilities? Start with a good strategic plan. The strategic plan must include the usual mission statement, vision statement, and core principles.

And, by the way, you executives and managers, whatever you define as mission, vision, and core principles, you must be committed to them and not simply put them on paper because they sound noble. Accountability starts with senior leadership. If you say it, mean it and do it. Your credibility will be shot if you say, for instance, “Our people’s safety is of paramount importance,” and then proceed to under-support safety training, tools, and time for hazard analysis with a resulting 20 incidents per 200,000 FTE labor-hours. Walk the talk.

Develop a set of tangible objectives from the vision of what the organization intends to achieve. If, for instance, one aspect of your organization’s vision is to be the low-cost producer of your product class, a related objective might be to maximize operations maintenance work management processes cost effectiveness while optimizing production availability. A set of operations and maintenance goals can be developed from these objectives.

Goals are tangible while objectives are statements of intent. Goals related to the above objectives might include reducing or maintaining operations and maintenance cost per unit produced and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) at or below a certain value. Goals should be defined in terms of measures that each level within each department and the overall organization can and should achieve.

When objectives and goals are well defined, departmental managers can be held accountable to design and document guidance (policies, processes, and procedures) used to achieve the goals. Design and documentation include flow charts, position/functional roles and responsibilities, and a narrative process guide that puts in writing how tasks are to be done and expectations for people with roles and responsibilities. These guidance documents also become the training manuals for communicating roles and responsibilities. These roles and responsibilities can then be included in position descriptions for each person.

Basing roles and responsibilities on a foundation of objectives and goals allows you to develop current employees and select new hires based on sound reasoning.