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Last Update: Wednesday June 23, 2021

Key Idea: Put Job Descriptions In Writing

Mike Neary believes that you need to clearly define the job for people and then get out of their way.

Key Question:


Teach everything you know to all who are willing to learn.

Q:  What did Mike finally do that allowed his business to grow?

A: He hired people and then taught them what he knows. He also hired people who knew about sales and marketing, which is the part of business he tried to pretend was not necessary. The rule of thumb we suggest all business owners stick to when it comes to getting yourself out of the day-to-day operation of the business is this: If it repeats, teach.
Any task that has to be done over and over again can be taught to a person who is willing to learn. The problem with most owners is that they don't see the patterns. They think that everything they do all day is creative and requires constant decision making. Take a piece of paper and put the name of a task you do at the top of the page. Now write out all the steps you go through to achieve the task. When Mike did this, he was amazed that he could remove tasks from his desk and put them on the desk of an employee. It was only after he put job descriptions in writing that he started to see others be productive. Take your business out of your head and put it on paper, and you will see growth.

Tom Gegax, who built a business from zero to $200 million in sales, believes that employees will only be productive when they are

Fully aware of his expectations of them
Provided with constant feedback

Q: How does a business decide how to nurture and guide employees within the business?

A: Here, too, what we've learned from Tom is applicable to any business. The challenge is in determining how to move through the four steps within your organization. Let's look at each one separately.

Set Expectations Provide each employee with a written job description and a copy of your company's organizational chart as part of his or her first day's orientation. In addition to increasing the employee's productivity, setting expectations very clearly and in writing provides the employee with a level of comfort and knowledge of his or her role in the business.

Motivate employees Every employee in the organization should meet with the person to whom he or she reports at least annually. This meeting should include a historical evaluation of performance since the last meeting as well as goal and objective setting for the next period. The employee should be made aware of how his or her individual goals are part of the overall goals of the business. Finally, the anticipated award, e.g., promotion or bonus, for successfully achieving those goals should be clearly stated. Both the evaluation and prospective goal setting should be in writing and signed by both the employee and supervisor. Subsequent years' evaluations should include a review of goals set the previous year.

Educate employees Every position in a company requires a certain minimum skill set. That skill set should be included in the written job description. Improving the skill set with additional training for the current position or for a position in the company that the employee is working toward should be discussed in the annual evaluation and goal setting session. Every employee in the organization should benefit from training each year.

Provide feedback
Annual evaluations and goal setting, formalized and documented, are an outstanding way for even a small business to effectively manage its human resources. However, once a year is just too infrequently to provide employees with the constructive feedback they need. Positive feedback should be provided publicly, with recognition given to the employee throughout the company. Negative feedback should be provided privately behind closed doors and documented if it is considered to be grounds for dismissal if not corrected.

NOTE: Our editor, Marcia Kern, has been a teacher since 1974. She offers these teaching tips:

  1. Most people are visual learners; therefore, have instructions and procedures written down so they can refer to them often. Someone still needs to demonstrate and explain each new task.
  2. Teach the tasks a few at a time. Try not to overload the new employee. Give plenty of opportunity to practice each task or skill before moving on.
  3. Explain why procedures are what they are. Try to include the greater context in the teaching time so the employee will see the "big picture."
  4. If possible, eliminate distractions during training.
  5. Be prepared to repeat your instructions. People take more or less time depending upon the skill and experience of the individual. Remember, the average person takes 8 repetitions to acquire a new skill.
  6. Remember, some people are faster with some tasks and slower with others. Keep the teaching tone "light" and informal. People learn better with less stress.
  7. Instead of asking "do you have any questions?" or "do you understand?" ask "What questions do you have?" Encourage questions, especially when the "learning curve" is high.
  8. When pointing out errors, try to focus on one area at a time. If you tell the employee everything he/she is doing wrong at once, he may become anxious and not be able to listen as well.
  9. Praise often.
  10. Check in with the new employee often at first to make sure he/she is performing satisfactorily.
  11. Make sure the new employee has someone (or more) to whom he/she can ask for re- teaching or further explanations.
  12. Inform the employee on what basis he/she will be evaluated.
  13. Keep your patience and your sense of humor.

Think about it

Are you a good teacher?  Who on your payroll needs to learn something new and how will they learn it?  Do you enjoy teaching?

Clip from: Oregon Log Homes - they're building beauty.

National Home Builders'  "Best in America" Award

Oregon: As a young ski instructor on Mount Hood, Mike Neary built his first log home for himself.  When friends and family all bragged on it and wanted a log home too, he knew he had stumbled on to his life's work.

Today his company, Oregon Log Homes, builds the most beautiful log homes in the world.  The National Home Builders Association gave it "The Best In American Living" award and that won the attention of Disney.  Oregon Log Home was given the opportunity to build the Fort Wilderness Lodge in Orlando.

While much of the work is done by hand, Mike invented a way to automate some of the process which keeps the company competitive while still thoroughly unique.

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Oregon Log Homes, Inc.

Mike Neary, CEO, founder

1399 N. Highway 197
Maupin, OR 97037

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Put Job Descriptions In Writing

MIKE: Knowing what I know now, I would do it differently.

HATTIE: There are two kinds of small business owners. There are the folks who have done all the different pieces of the task and they know how to do everything; then there's the other type who are strictly business folks who don't know the stages or the craft's steps. So you're a person who's done it all. Do you think that has helped you manage folks because you know their job and you understand it and you've done those jobs before?

MIKE: Yes, in some ways that's a benefit and in other ways that's not a benefit because, like I say, you do think that there's a better way to do it and you could do it better, but you just can't manage all those departments and you just got to let others do the work.

And actually I found out that 99 percent of the time, they're right and my way of doing it would probably not be the way to do it.

HATTIE: What do you think you've done wrong? Do you think there are mistakes, you've said, `Oh, jeez, why'd I do that?' Can you look back and say, `That was a mistake'?

MIKE: I think the biggest mistake that I've had is not dealing out job descriptions quick enough. `OK, this is your job. You do this. This is your job. You do this.' It's like, `Well, you guys know what you were supposed to be doing. I don't have to tell you.' No, and that's not true. You have to make people comfortable in their jobs, and the only way to do that is to give them a job description and--so they know every day when they come in what they're supposed to be doing.

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