Describing jobs destroys them

A traditional HR advisor is triggered by job descriptions, competence matrices and documents in which these are all extensively described. And you know, I understand why. Job descriptions were meant to structure and explain pay schemes. But they have become obsolete. Job descriptions have become a restraint on the talent in your organization.

Policies prevent freedom
A warehouse full of (X) files determining how you should act

Why job descriptions were created

Job descriptions were created a time long ago, when everyone had a boss. The main responsibility of HR departments was providing the correct salary on time, and they had as little to do with the actual employees as possible (not unlike the boss). Some people had the same job their entire life, and you were not expected to think about possible improvements for the company – the boss obviously knew better what the company and its employees were supposed to do.

In order to explain differences in salaries, HR was tasked with creating a system with different levels of responsibilities relating to competences. This complicated system was provided to the employees, telling them it was fair with the added bonus of showing what the possibilities for growth were.

Times have changed

Fortunately, organizations have realized their mistake and have adopted a more pleasant and modern way of working. Instead of using people as resources which you have to put at the right place at a conveyor belt, organizations have realized people are actually the most valuable asset of the organization, who can help make everything better.

A world without jobs

We don’t have job descriptions at TOPdesk. Never had them. We believe it is important that all colleagues are considered equally important, no matter their (lack of) experience or responsibilities. Everyone is different and excels only when you take their personal talents into account. That’s why we do not force them into a job description with associated competences. There isn’t even a job title in your contract. It simply states you will do things for the company TOPdesk.

One of the main advantages of this is that it stimulates initiatives. Whether you are the director or a software tester, you can share your ideas. And if people like the idea, you are actually made responsible for making it a reality. We want to remove any obstacle that prevents people from excelling at their work. Do you think something is useful for the organization, but you are not hired to do it? Just do it anyway!

Another advantage is that it stimulates internal growth and exchange. At TOPdesk, you can always change your main responsibilities without actually having to adjust your contract. We have even simplified our entire salary system to facilitate this: everyone starts at the exact same salary. That way you are not stuck in a certain job you don’t like anymore, just because it pays more than the job you would actually want to do.

An agile organization

Our lack of job descriptions makes us more agile. When we wanted to implement a more agile way of working, where people from different departments work together in a team in order to better service customers, this was no problem from an HR perspective. We had no policies, competence matrices or salary systems that prevented this change. Colleagues could simply sit together and start working in a new way to see if it worked, and expand that way of working afterwards.

A necessary evil?

Unfortunately, it is hard to organize your company without any form of policy or system. A small number of rules can give clarity to your employees and stimulates their growth. For example, we at TOPdesk still have quite a classic way of organizing our departments, even though the people in the departments work across the boundaries.

What is most important is that you should try to think from your colleagues’ perspective. HR should be about people. How will they perform best? Not by trapping them in a web of rules, but by agreeing on a set a basic rules and give them the freedom to do what they think is best.

Which obstacles do you create?

Are you brave enough to throw away your old-fashioned way of organizing if you notice that it is counterproductive? Why don’t you try a new way of working on a small-scale, learn from the test, and expand on the good parts. Policies and systems can be a good thing, but happy and excelling employees are best.

It’s been a while

Its been a while
Not me, but another guy known to say “It’s been a while”.

Its been a while since I posted here. I was quite busy with all kinds of stuff, like presentations on HR at different companies and writing things for TOPdesk instead of my own blog. But I have good news: from now on there will be regular updates on the blog again!

I have loads of stuff to tell you and love to hear your opinions on it. If all goes well the next couple of months, there might be even bigger news…..

any ideas on this cliffhanger?


Personality tests are bogus, but you can use them anyway.

personality tests

The debate on the value of personality tests is the HR equivalent of the OS or browser debate for IT people. Some swear by the tests and believe they can improve performance, while others cry out charlatan or humbug the moment they are asked to participate in one. Can personality tests be of any use?

What are personality tests?

Personality tests originate from the phrenology part of psychology. The very first tests (late 18th century) aimed to deduct a persons personality by the measurements of their skull. This evolved over the 19th and 20th century into tests mostly based on many questions which require a person to score statements and questions on a (Likert) scale. In order to interpret the results, they are compared to the norm of other test subjects. The result will then put the person in 1 of 3/4/8/N types of personalities and show the associated characteristics. Famous examples of tests are:

  • MBTI – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • MMPI – Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
  • FFM – Five Factor Model / Big Five personality traits

Other famous tests which are not true personality tests but are often used in the same context:

What are personality tests used for?

During the first world war the US military used personality tests to see whether soldiers were susceptible to shell shock. During the forties and fifties they were used to scientifically discover the basic traits of human personality. Nowadays personality tests are often used to see whether a someones personality matches a certain job or will fit in a team. There are even companies whose sole product is providing personality tests during job selections for big organizations.

What’s wrong with personality tests?

The tests aren’t really the problem here (although some of them really shouldn’t be labeled scientific); it’s the people using them. People have the tendency to view the results of tests as the absolute truth. In their minds, the tests results are a fact just like gravity is, and they act accordingly. While I strongly believe in the added value of social sciences, I also strongly believe that results from social sciences should be used correctly. There should be room for interpretation and in the case of personality tests people should be aware of biased test taker interpretation, social factors  and respondent faking influencing results. That is why I think you should not use a test as the main way to determine ones personality in order to see if you should hire a person for a certain job or not. I believe having a decent job interview (using the STAR method for example) with multiple people will have a much better result in finding out whether a person fits a job or team.

personality test meme

So you have just taken a personality test, and the results clearly show you are a pink-purple-with-gold-flakes personality type. This is by no means an excuse to explain all your actions based on this result. Nor is it a decent way of forcing all your colleagues to approach you in a certain way. And it is certainly not something which you should bring up in every conversation remotely related to how you act.

Results from a personality tests are not absolute and should not be used to determine everything you do.

Why you should use them anyway.

If you have read all of the above, we can proceed to the useful stuff. Personality tests can be a nice tool if you would like to give people a better understanding of different types of people and how they work. It can broaden peoples perspective and help in explaining the added value of each person.

I think it can be especially fun and useful to do a certain test with your entire team in order to learn people are different. Evaluating the results together and learning each others preferences can help improve the cooperation within the team. We occasionally do a test in our HR team and find them both entertaining and insightful. As long as you keep the dangers I mentioned above in mind, they might be of use for you or your team as well.


What’s your stance on the use of personality tests? Can they be of use to an organization, or are they an insult to science and complete waste of time?

Since my previous blog on Catbert was well received I leave you with another great Dilbert comic.

dilbert personality tests

5 tips from an evil HR director

Dilbert Catbert HR director

Can a comic be educational? Dilbert shows you can improve your HR and management in three simple drawings. Please meet Catbert, and learn from the most evil HR director in the fictional world.

Who is Catbert?

Catbert is a character in the Dilbert comic. For those of you who don’t know the Dilbert comic: it is a comic based on the (working) life of Dilbert. He is a engineer/developer who works for a company which excels in all the bad parts of capitalism, bureaucracy and management. Catbert is the HR director of the company and is mostly designated as the evil HR director.

What can you learn from an evil HR director?

The good thing about Catbert is that he is honest about his evilness. He lives to make the lives of of his employees as unpleasant as possible. While doing so, he shows you the things your employees dread the most about HR and management. If you pay attention, and prevent things that resemble some of his practices, your HR work will be better.

5 Catbert strips you should read

Please read these 5 strips and try to see if you can learn what to do (by seeing what not to do 😉 ) The answers can be found below the strips.

Unfair pay

Dilbert Catbert SalaryHave a honest and fair pay scheme. Don’t offer new people more than your current employees because they negotiate better. Try to pay everyone what they are worth based on objective facts when you hire them. Don’t fool yourself into thinking employees won’t find out you overpay a new employee…. because they will find out and be very unhappy the moment they do. Broken trust is hard to repair.

Mandatory unpaid overtime

Dilbert Catbert OvertimeWork-life balance is important! I know the term is hyped, but that doesn’t mean there is no truth to it. Employees that have enough time for their personal lives will perform better at work as well.

Random policies

Dilbert Catbert PolicyTry to prevent making new policies. I sometimes think the most important part of my job is to prevent and remove useless policies. Only create those that are truly necessary, and explain why the company needs them. Leave the rest open to your employees, who probably know best what to do during their day anyway.

Untrain your employees

Dilbert Catbert TrainingTrain your people! In order to grow your company, you need to grow your people. Stimulate them to learn and develop and it will have a positive effect on your company.


Dilbert Catbert HealthStimulate your colleagues to be healthy. Healthy people tend to be less sick and perform better.


There are a lot more Catbert strips on the Dilbert site; and it has a great search option as well. Just remember; Catbert is always wrong when it comes to HR (except in the very first picture at the top of this blog post 😉 ).

Can you find more funny Dilbert strips which are educational at the same time? Do you know another comic which we can learn from? Please share!


The good, the bad, and bureaucracy

Bureaucracy! This word is often used in frustration. Sometimes the word seems to be worse than any of the cuss words we use. But what is bureaucracy? And can we turn it in to something good for an HR department?

What is bureaucracy?

The word bureaucracy is commonly used to describe the strict way a governmental institution works in order to answer questions or solve issues. Another word typically associated with this situation is red tapeThere are plenty of comic sketches illustrating the bad and inefficient sides of bureaucracy; the best one being a famous Dutch commercial about a girl that lost her purple plastic crocodile at a swimming pool and wants to get it back. Her mom gets frustrated with forms and procedures even though the crocodile is in plain sight. Equally funny but slightly less on the subject of bureaucracy are the English sketches containing the phrase “Computer says no” by Little Britain.We can all think of a situation like this and remember the associated anger and disbelief. Believe it or not, bureaucracy started out as something good. In order to find out what went wrong we need to go back in time. (If you don’t like a history lesson, skip to “Bureaucracy and HR” below)

Who invented such an ugly thing!?!

While no-one can really claim to have invented bureaucracy, a German sociologist named Max Weber was one of the first to describe it in a scientific way. And believe it or not; he described it as an efficient form of organization…….. OK, when you are done laughing let’s actually delve into Max’s ideas instead of simply misquoting one of the great thinkers of his time.

Back then, things were changing from a classic farm-village society into a a more industrial-city orientated society. Instead of dealing with your friendly neighbors (which were more often than not related as well), you come to a city full of people you have never met and not knowing how to arrange things. In order to deal with the influx of new citizens in an efficient way, the local administrations began to standardize processes. This had the added benefit of treating everyone the same, preventing clientelism.

Max- sociologist and all round smart guy with trendy beard

Karl Emil Maximilian (Max) Weber was one of the great thinkers of this time and saw the first forms of bureaucracy as an efficient form of organization with a well-defined line of authority. It had clear rules and regulations which were strictly followed. In an ideal world, this meant that regular governmental employees could help anyone at their desk, simply following the rules which would ensure a fair treatment to everyone. But Weber, being a smart guy, also saw the danger of bureaucracy which he called the iron cage.  To keep things short, he predicted that bureaucracy would become what we believe it to be now, if people forgot that it is simply a tool to help people instead of a dogma of efficiency which should be followed no matter what.

Bureaucracy and HR

With the history lesson done, it’s time to look at what HR can learn from Max and his bureaucracy. In HR, we have seen an increase in the amount of technology we use to provide service to our clients (your colleagues 😉 ). Some of you know it as e-HRM, but if we look in a broader spectrum it is called service management. HR teams use software to provide information to their colleagues, which enables them to ask questions about their paychecks or inform us of changes in their personal situation. For simple questions and requests, bureaucracy can help to bring standardized processes and help colleagues in a fast and efficient way. However, and this is where we can truly learn from Weber’s teachings, we should never see the standardized process as something which can not be changed or made an exception on!

As an HR department, it is your duty to provide a great service to your colleagues, so they can focus on their own job without worrying about HR-side-stuff. Sometimes, this means you provide a standard answer or service to a simple question, but other times you should recognize that the question does not fit in your standardized process. Instead of forcing the question into one of the standard solutions, try to think of your colleague behind the question and how you can best help him or her. Making exceptions and providing bespoke solutions should be part of your HR arsenal in order to help your colleagues enjoy their work and function better.

My simple advise for a great HR service solution

Looking at the positive sides of bureaucracy, and taking the dangers into account, we can come up with two basic tips:

  • Provide your colleagues with information so they can find their own answers if they wish to. Obviously you do this digitally in this day and age, through a nice service portal. People are used to search for their own answers (thank you Google!) so help them find the information. As an added bonus, this will save you a lot of time and prevent the less challenging work of answering these basic questions.
  • With the time you saved above, you make sure you provide bespoke solutions for the situations which require your HR view. Truly help your colleagues with their questions, problems and requests instead of trying to answer questions as quickly as possible. Try to search for the question behind the question asked, and look for opportunities to improve your HR services where possible.

With these simple tips you can use the good parts of bureaucracy to save time and provide efficient service, while keeping an eye on the dangers of the red-taped-iron-cage. And maybe, just maybe, we will use the word bureaucracy in a more positive (or at least neutral) way in the future.

Please share your advise on great HR services if you have any. If not, I am sure you can share horrible examples of bureaucracy that will help us remember how we should not practice our work as HR professional.