How to write job descriptions that actually motivate people


Job descriptions are critical, so why are so many so bad?

Job descriptions often serve as the first introduction a person has to their job. They set expectations and can help colleagues start with momentum. However, in practice, many job descriptions suffer from four critical weaknesses:

  1. Most job descriptions emphasize only the tactical aspects of the job. A great job description needs to describe both the tactical and adaptive work. 
  2. Often, job descriptions don't emphasize how the work benefits the customer. This not only creates the wrong motivation for the work, but also diminishes the brand. Instead, job descriptions should be anchored on the impact the role is expected to create for the customer.
  3. Typical job descriptions don't set the expectation to drive growth, either in skill or in impact. As AI automates skills at an increasing pace, it is more important than ever that colleagues see their jobs as ever-changing and evolving.
  4. Job descriptions are often only used to hire colleagues, but not used afterward to help that colleague grow. Instead, job descriptions should be built right into the systems used to manage work. 

The challenge with job descriptions

Below are two different job descriptions for the same role, a bank branch teller. The first comes from ChatGPT and is a good representation of the average approach. The second is based on the science of performance as described in the worldwide bestseller, Primed to Perform

Chat GPT job description

Job Title: Bank Teller

About Us: At [Bank Name], we pride ourselves on our long-standing tradition of exceptional customer service, financial stewardship, and community involvement. We're looking for an individual who shares our values and is excited to facilitate our customers' financial transactions with efficiency and a smile.

Job Summary: The Bank Teller is responsible for providing customers with a variety of services, such as processing deposits, withdrawals, and payments, providing account information, and answering financial inquiries. The ideal candidate will have strong numeracy skills, exceptional communication abilities, and a commitment to providing excellent customer service.

Key Responsibilities:

  1. Process customer transactions including deposits, withdrawals, transfers, and payments. 
  2. Handle cash and checks, verifying amounts. 
  3. Identify and assess customers' needs. 
  4. Build and maintain positive relationships with customers.
  5. Resolve customer complaints. 
  6. Comply with financial policies. 
  7. Balance cash drawers. 
  8. Assist with opening and closing duties. 
  9. Stay current with banking products. 
  10. Participate in training and development.


  1. High school diploma or equivalent. 
  2. Strong numeracy and cash-handling skills. 
  3. Computer proficiency. 
  4. Ability to work in fast-paced environments. 
  5. Outstanding communication skills. 
  6. Attention to detail. 
  7. Ability to stand for extended periods.

What We Offer:

  1. Competitive salary and benefits. 
  2. Opportunities for growth. 
  3. Supportive work environment. 
  4. Employee discounts and perks. 
  5. Ongoing training programs.

Primed to Perform job description

Job Title: Bank Teller (Customer Ambassador)

The purpose of our company: It isn't easy to make good financial decisions. Am I saving enough? Am I investing in the right things? Am I spending only on what brings me joy?  When people manage their money well, they can live more fulfilled and less stressful lives. This is why [Bank Name]'s branches exist. We aim to help the members of our community make better financial decisions. 

The purpose of this role: How many people do you trust to help you make good financial decisions?  Many members of our community either have no one they trust, or worse still, put their trust in scammers. The purpose of this role is to build deep trust, one interaction at a time. This is why we call the role "ambassador".  The job is to be the customer's ambassador to the complex and intimidating world of personal finance. The role has two main components—reactive and proactive.

  • Reactive: Customers will come into the branch and ask for support on transactions, like depositing cash or getting a withdrawal. Ambassadors help with those transactions and in each one, aim to help customers make better financial choices.
  • Proactive: Ambassadors, on occasion, will drive proactive projects to build impactful relationships with the broader community. For example, imagine visiting a major employer and hosting a seminar on good financial decision-making.

Key responsibilities:

  • Tactical responsibilities: Learn how to help customers with their banking transactions in ways that are fast, high-quality, and trust-building.  To build trust one transaction at a time, one must learn how to execute numerical, detailed processes to perfection.
  • Adaptive responsibilities: Branches are like ships at sea. The unexpected will happen at any given time. Ambassadors must also learn how to collaboratively solve problems during these unexpected moments. One example is how we help customers adopt new tools that will help them manage their finances.Another example is what we do when construction blocks our signage or when torrential rain prevents customers from coming in. Colleagues must learn how to be adaptive to continue serving their communities.


Below are the critical skills needed to thrive in this role. We seek candidates who bring with them some of these skills and are willing and able to learn the rest.

  • Proactively learning and using team processes
  • Continuously improving your team's workflow and processes
  • Building long-term friendships with customers or external stakeholders
  • Diagnosing a customer's needs
  • Pressure testing quantitative work
  • Pressure testing workflows and processes
  • Building an impactful external network
  • Building a community of customers
  • Writing simple, brand-consistent copy
  • Active and attentive listening
  • Demonstrating your product or service
  • Communicating with structure
  • Gathering customer or expert feedback to create useful ideas
  • Troubleshooting and solving everyday work problems
  • Participating in team problem solving

How we work

  • Your ideas matter - No one in our teams is a mindless cog in the machine. Everyone's ideas matter, and everyone is challenged to solve problems and improve our impact.
  • It's a team sport - Our colleagues don't work as individuals. We work as teams, which means we help each other whenever we can.
  • On-the-job apprenticeship - No one is stagnant in our organization. We all seek to challenge ourselves and each other to grow our skills. 
  • Skill-based compensation - While we have a high bar for performance and impact, we don't blame each other for failure. Instead, we put our money where our mouth is by paying out colleagues based on the skills they develop on the job.

When put into practice, the latter type of job description attracts more skilled talent, sets the right tone when starting work, and ultimately makes it easier to drive performance.  To build these kinds of job descriptions for any role, apply these four key concepts:

1. Clarify tactical and adaptive performance expectations

I once asked the head of a branch network what tellers do. His off-the-cuff answer was very similar to the ChatGPT answers, listing a set of tactical processes.  

But then I asked him what about the adaptive side of their jobs. For example, when the core banking platform is down, do some tellers adapt, while others give up? Or do tellers in rural residential areas adapt their approach to win customers, versus tellers in urban business centers? All of these are examples of adaptive behaviors.

The head of the branch network then listed another dozen examples of adaptive behaviors that cannot be managed by processes. When he was done, he recognized that their highest performers were not just tactical, but adaptive also. 

As we've discussed in Primed to Perform and in other publications, there are two types of performance. Tactical performance is about how well we converge. Through tactical performance, we can use processes to scale best practices. Adaptive performance is about how well we diverge. Through adaptive performance, we can solve new challenges or "last mile" problems.

Practically all jobs have components that are both tactical and adaptive, so it is important that job descriptions describe both. 

2. Focus on the customer

Review the first two sections of both job descriptions above. The one from ChatGPT starts with a paragraph about the company. The second starts by discussing the impact the role is meant to have on the customer.

This distinction is critical for building high-performing and motivating roles.

As we've shared in our research and book, if you want to maximize performance, you should motivate your people through play (enjoying the work) and purpose (desiring impact).

When a job description is centered around the customer's problems and how this role contributes to solving them, it will start to elicit a sense of play and purpose for the job.

3. Role model growth orientation

A good job description should help the colleague realize that their role isn't to maintain the status quo, but instead to improve it.  One critical dimension of improvement is skill.

Due to new technologies like generative artificial intelligence, old skills are becoming obsolete, and new skills are being born at a breakneck pace. In just a few years, many jobs will require new skills.

Typical job descriptions, like the one provided by Chat GPT, create a list of qualifications that are purported to be minimum standards. Unfortunately, this approach often causes people to form a demotivating "imposter syndrome" at work, where they then "fake it until they make it."  This posturing slows down their pace of skill growth.  

Even worse, this limited approach prevents forming diverse teams where colleagues have different but synergistic skills.

Instead, job descriptions should list the skills that you'd want colleagues to learn while doing the job. These very same skills should be used by leaders to drive a process of active apprenticeship.

To make all of this easier, you can use the skill library in the Factor platform to identify the skills for a given role. Not only does Factor have a deep skill library, but it also helps leaders apprentice colleagues and give feedback using artificial intelligence as a leadership co-pilot. 

Factor includes hundreds of skills organized by an accessible, inspiring taxonomy:

Colleagues use the Skills application to set and complete learning goals and manage their skill growth. When these same skills are used in job descriptions, it is easy to have a consistent and high-performing talent strategy.

Factor makes it easy to build habits for on-the-job apprenticeship, replacing often toxic forced feedback rhythms with true on-the-job learning. To help leaders be great coaches, Factor uses AI to help identify opportunities to learn new skills.

In the job description, share the most important skills for the role, and share the expectation that colleagues are expected to learn the skills they didn’t already have.

4. Make tools, not documents

One organization that was undergoing a transformational change in their operation realized that their job descriptions hadn’t changed in 15 years. They also realized that when they were first written, not much thought went into them. The problem here is that these job descriptions are used in job postings, but then forgotten once the jobs get started.

Not only is this wasteful, but also it is a missed opportunity to engender the sort of accountability that leads to high-performing work. A good job description should be used as an accountability tool in ongoing coaching.

A simple way to accomplish this goal in the Factor platform is to make a "stack" for each job description.  Factor uses stacks to organize work, including strategy, problem solving, knowledge, or project plans.  Once a stack is created for a job description, that same stack can be mirrored onto the personal boards of all colleagues who share that role. This helps to form a company-wide community of practice where peers can help each other master their work.

By organizing work this way, every teller can have an ongoing discussion about their role. They share tools and useful materials. The people who do the job can even participate in improving the job description themselves.

Just do it!

Most companies feel like they don't have the skills they need to win. To overcome this obstacle, it's important to integrate the organization's talent system into one unified ecosystem. That starts with well-designed job descriptions.

Ask yourself:

  • Do your job descriptions articulate expectations for exceptional tactical and adaptive performance?
  • Do your job descriptions motivate colleagues?  
  • Do your job descriptions lay the groundwork for skills-based apprenticeship? 
  • Do your job descriptions lend themselves to colleagues helping each other?  
  • Do your job descriptions get used as a coaching tool? 

If the answer to any of these questions is "no", then it's time to revamp how your company thinks about the humble job description.

Originally published at:

Neel Doshi

Neel is the co-founder of Vega Factor and co-author of bestselling book, Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation. Previously, Neel was a Partner at McKinsey & Company, CTO and founding member of an award-winning tech startup, and employee of several mega-institutions. He studied engineering at MIT and received his MBA from Wharton. In his spare time, he’s an avid yet mediocre woodworker and photographer.

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