How To Design A Job That People Want

Taking on an employee for the first time is scary. Most prospective new employers start with one big question: can I afford it? But in my experience the first question should actually be: how can I design a job that people want? The kind of job that the person you appoint is super-excited to land. The kind where they tell their their friends and family about their amazing new opportunity. Fundamentally, the kind of job that truly fulfils someone. Forget money, forget hours, forget location — the key to becoming a good employer starts with meaningful job design. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

Forecasting or Guessing?

Planning for the future is like sticking a finger in the air to see which way the wind blows. But in the absence of certainty, you can still make educated guesses (that’s all a forecast is after all). You can make educated guesses on what resources are currently stretched and need room for expansion. You can make educated guesses about the skills required for your business to grow. And you can make highly educated guesses on the way in which you want your business to operate, and the values that form the backbone of your brand.

How Far Ahead To Plan?

Plan with a minimum 12 month timeframe in mind. Anything less than 12 months is more cost-effective to outsource or employ agency workers than recruit directly. Short-term contracts can meet the needs of some potential employees, but if you’re looking to build your brand you want to hire someone who believes in your business. Someone who, given the right conditions, will be as inspired as you are to meet your customers’ needs. Someone who will be an outstanding ambassador for your brand values. And research shows that one of the pillars of this kind of employee engagement is job security. Plan for a minimum of 12 months.

So if 12 months is a minimum, should you be creating a 5 year plan? In my opinion, no. Your superpower as a small business is your agility. The agility to adapt to the market, to flex what you offer to meet your customers’ needs. This is something larger organisations dream of.

If you look back for a minute to where your business was 5 years ago from today — did it even exist? Was it still a dream on a piece of paper? Had you turned a profit? Had you ever planned to deliver the services or profits that you currently do today? I’m willing to bet a lot has happened in the last 5 years so don’t lock yourself into fixed 5 years plans just yet.

How To Design A Job That People Want In 5 Steps

Step 1

First we’ll work on the scope of the role — eg. How the person will spend their days. For this we need to determine what activities will be done across the whole of the business. Write a list of the following:

  • Every element of work you currently do in your business. If you outsource any services include that for now, an employee with the right skills may enable you to take this back in-house. Break it down into as much detail as possible. Think of daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly, yearly — everything should be included.
  • Add on any tasks, products or services you don’t currently have, but which you feel are essential for your business to grow in the next couple of years.
  • Add on any ways in which your overall customer experience or business operation could be improved.  Perhaps a better invoicing process; quicker responses to customer queries; bespoke packaging; a more efficient client booking system.

Step 2

Look at your list and tick off the elements which you feel are essential for you to continue with personally. Depending on your business sector this may be an easy or difficult choice. Generally anything where your customers are buying into your expertise and you as a person — these are the areas you want to keep hold of. If you provide a professional service of some kind such as coaching or accounting, customers will expect you to deliver the coaching or finalise their accounts personally. They won’t mind, however, who manages their appointments or compiles the paperwork.

Step 3

Look at everything that is left on your list and decide if any of it can be achieved by working in a different way. Can it be managed by a system rather than a person? Many time-consuming processes within a small business can be managed by automation: payment gateways that populate your back-end accounts; client management systems that allow booking, payments, automatic invoicing and reminders; project management systems for communicating milestones and progress to your clients. Automation of repetitive tasks not only frees up your time, it removes tedious repetitive tasks from the workload of your prospective employee and enables you to create a more engaging job.

Step 4

Group everything that is left together. This is the job you are creating. What does it look like? Is it cohesive? Is there a commonality around the tasks that will enable you to advertise this as an ‘admin’ role, or a ‘marketing’ role or a ‘customer service’ role? The first employee in a business can often be a ‘jack-of-all trades’ but it should still hold together in a somewhat cohesive structure. Think about advertising this role — if the type of role isn’t clear it may be difficult for someone to find your advert or imagine what working for you would look like. If the role covers e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, how will you decide what is right to pay?

But if you’re looking at your list and thinking —  Oh. My. God. Help?! — don’t panic! It usually takes a few passes through steps 2 and 3 to arrive at a semblance of order. The problem usually stems from step 2. Most of us look at our list and hang on to everything we love to do, rather than what we need to do. It’s understandable, this is our business and we want to spend our days doing what we love. But what it often means is leaving our new employee with all the disjointed, unappealing, unstimulating work.

This presents two major challenges. Firstly it may be impossible to recruit — unless you’re paying some serious money, who wants a boring job? Secondly even if you manage to recruit, it may be impossible to keep them. As soon as a more exciting and stimulating role catches their eye, they’ll be off. Leaving you back at square one.

So keep revisiting Steps 2 and 3 until you get to a grouping of responsibilities in Step 4 that feels cohesive. It should only take a couple of passes through the process before you arrive at a job that feels like the right balance between a opportunity for someone else to grow, and a support system for you to grow your business. This is the scope of your new role.

Step 5

If you’re reading my website I’m assuming it’s because you don’t just want to be AN employer. You want to be a GREAT employer. One where your workplace is just as much a reflection of your brand values as the products or services you deliver. So this last stage is critical.

And it’s the part of the job design process that so many employers, large and small, skip/gloss over/ignore. What is the size of the role?

Does this feel like a full-time job, a part-time job, a two/three person job? A recent survey of 2,750 working parents found that 78% were working beyond their contracted hours. And 60% of those were doing so because it was necessary to deal with their workload. The world does not need any more unwieldy, all-encompassing roles which require someone to work evenings and weekends to keep up with demand.

Julie Waltham, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Working Families, summed it up beautifully: “We want [employers] to really rethink job design to tackle the problem of overworking. Parents need more human-sized jobs.” It’s not an issue solely reserved for parents though, it’s for everyone. And responsibility lies with employers to get this right. The good news is that you can — simply by building it in from your very first employee.

There is no magic formula to estimating the size of a role but the best solution, I find, is to put yourselves in the shoes of the new employee. How much capacity would you need to deliver this work well? Then take that estimate and double it. This will take into account the inevitable learning curve of someone new to your business, room for growth as the business develops and most important of all — capacity for the person to exceed your customers’ expectations.

Congratulations! You now have the basis of your job designed. It doesn’t stop there of course! The next steps, which I’ll be writing about more in the coming weeks, will be:

  • Deciding what to pay
  • Budgeting for the total cost of employing someone
  • Writing a job advert that attracts the right people
  • Interviewing and appointing the right person

I’d love to hear how you get on, come over and have a chat or if you have any HR related questions you can find me on Instagram at @thehappysideof40 or email me at

You can do this!

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How To Design A Job That People Want

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