Job Descriptions? What Job Descriptions? An Eight-Step Process to Change Management

By JDXpert - October 07, 2019

As an HR professional, you recognize the value of a strong, inspiring job description that reflects the culture, mission and vision of your organization. An HR DIVE article noted, “job descriptions are the blueprint to employee success” (2017). This statement sums up the importance of job descriptions and why they are such a critical piece of a successful organization. Accurate & current job descriptions provide strong job postings, talent, and employee evaluations for promotions. Job descriptions are evolving documents and are most up to date when they are consistently used, reviewed, and edited with the most current compliance standards. As a foundation of HR systems, job descriptions plan for employee futures from recruitment to retirement by allowing employees to see how their job responsibilities & achievements fit into the overall core values of the organization. 

With the vast amount of support for “why job descriptions are imperative to your organization”, how do we get our managers & leaders to “buy-in” to the importance of job description management? 
This situation is common and often heard when an HR team is trying to manage their job descriptions, keep them up to date & compliant, while collaborating with managers about reviewing current job descriptions in Word documents, SharePoint, or via email exchanges. Then a situation arises where the current management of job descriptions are lacking, missing information, not updated, out of compliance, etc. Some possible consequences are a mess of legal challenges and a lengthy project often follows. At this point, the HR team realizes their “iceberg is melting” and their job descriptions need to be managed in a repository system so everyone can access the same, accurate, job description and have all HR systems working from one central space.
You may have heard of, or even have used, change management and organizational change during your time as an HR professional. Often it appears when a company is undertaking a large change that effects processes and people and needs a way to manage the communications and efforts to ensure everyone is “buying-in” to the way of doing the new process. It can also be applied when helping your managers and leaders “see” the need for properly written, documented, reviewed & stored job descriptions.
A renowned leader in change management, John Kotter, shared a light-hearted short tale about a colony of penguins whose “iceberg is melting” to illustrate his eight-step process for leading change. In “Our Iceberg is Melting” (2005), there are a few penguins who have observed the beginnings of their iceberg melting…from underneath. Since the melting was not clearly visible to the Leadership Council or many others from the colony, one penguin had to show a leader who they could trust to listen to the concern and show them the problem. Otherwise, the leaders were dismissive of the situation and saw no need to change as the iceberg had “always been their home”. (Sound familiar?)
One penguin got the attention of one leader and shared the “sense of urgency” about the fact that their iceberg was melting, and they needed to make a change for the survival of their colony. The leader penguin helped the penguin present to the Leadership Council the problem the iceberg was facing, by demonstrating what could happen if they didn’t act and remained complacent that the iceberg was not melting.

  • Step One: Create a sense of urgency by helping others see the need for change and immediate action using motivation (reduce fear, anger & complacency).|

  • Step Two: Organize a team of leaders able to promote change. All members must be aware that a change is necessary, be willing to lead by example, and take responsibility for the results of themselves and others (Cohen, 2005).

At first, the Leadership Council resisted, but once they could “see” & “feel” what could happen to their colony they were on board (buy-in). The penguin shared the vision with the colony to show “how the future will be different from the past and how you can make that future a reality” (Kotter, 2005).

  • Step Three: Get the vision right by “creating a clear, inspiring, and achievable picture of the future. The vision must describe the key behavior required in the future state so that strategies and key performance metrics can be created to support the vision” (Cohen, 2005).
  • Step Four: Communicate for understanding and Buy-In by ensuring as many people “understand and accept the vision and the strategy” (Kotter, 2005).

The penguin team recruited other penguins to help scout out a new place to live. This required adult penguins to change and start sharing food with scouts, instead of only with their own children. This change allowed the penguins to start thinking about their new way of life as they took action to find their new home. When the scouts returned with news of possible new homes for their colony they were honored and shared a sense of success.

  • Step Five: Empower others to act by removing barriers for “those who want to make the vision a reality can do so” (Kotter, 2005).
  • Step Six: Produce short-term wins by sharing “meaningful performance improvements to demonstrate that progress is occurring” (Cohen, 2005).

At this point in the decision to find a new home and implement changes needed to make the move, most of the skeptics had become less skeptical, as the new daily life routine continued among the colony. Soon the penguins began their move to their new home, just in time to settle in for the start of winter. The move was not always easy or smooth, some penguins got lost, but found their way back, they had to find new fishing areas, and adjust to a new direction of the wind. By the next season, they found a new better iceberg to call home with more fishing areas because they had not let up and become complacent with staying in one place again. Each time the colony prepared to move; it was much easier than the first time. Of course, there were still those few penguins who decided that now that they had found the “perfect iceberg” they should just stay put. There will be those among you who will accept the changes, some will love it, and others never will. “Culture changes with as much difficulty in penguin colonies as in human colonies” (Kotter, 2005). 

  • Step Seven: Don’t let up by “persisting, monitoring and measuring progress, and not declaring victory prematurely” until the vision is a reality (Cohen, 2005).
  • Step Eight: Make it stick by creating a new culture to ensure new actions and behaviors replace the old and take root, by being embedded throughout the organization, make it “the way we do business here” (Cohen, 2005)

As Kotter’s penguin tale shows us change is necessary for survival, it easily translates to HR teams (“penguin colony”) trying to get their managers and leadership (“Leadership Council”) to stop using the “old way” of managing job descriptions via files and emails while missing critical components (“the melting iceberg”) and move to a new way of using a centralized, compliant job description management system (“new icebergs, change”).
Cohen, D. (2005). The Heart of Change Field Guide: tools and tactics for leading change in your organization. Harvard Business School Publishing.
Kotter, J. & Rathgeber, H. (2005). Our Iceberg Is Melting. St. Martin’s Press.
O’Donnell, R. (2017). At Year’s End, Don’t Forget to Update your Job Descriptions. HR Dive. Retrieved from:



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