What is a “Position Agreement” and How To Use One To Set Expectations Between Managers And Employees

Position Agreement

The vast majority of job descriptions under-serve employees and yield little inspiration or clarity. With at least 50% of the workforce in a perpetual state of confusion with regard to what is expected of them, you begin to wonder if we can do better. 

We can. It starts by ‘getting in sync’ as Ray D’Alio explains it. D’Alio is the leader of one of the biggest hedge funds in the US, Bridgewater Associates. Bridgewater models an ethos of clarity and alignment no matter what rung on the hierarchy you are. 

To be effective and aligned, both leadership and associates must have agreement on what is actually expected. Enter the Position Agreement.

What is a position agreement?

Position agreements reimagine the relationship between the employee and their direct leadership. They develop a mutual understanding between management and employees about the specifics of work.

A position agreement is a written agreement that is understood and signed by the employee and manager explaining the exact results the employee is responsible for delivering. It details the specific work and standards the employee is required to fulfil. The result creates a culture of understanding, autonomy and assigns accountability. 

With the invasion of scope creep, unclear expectations and communication breakdowns, position agreements remove ambiguity to allow employees to concentrate on delivering results. 

Who needs a position agreement?

Position agreements are not required for every employee. In fact, it is best to start with new or underperforming associates. This helps to create clarity of expectations and provides appropriate performance management criteria

Writing position agreements will usually fall to a manager for the team members who directly report to them. However, it is not unreasonable to ask the employee to also draft a copy. This helps to understand how the associate envisions their role. As employee roles grow and transform, make sure that you consistently update the agreement. 

How to write a position agreement?

Position agreements contain 5 separate points that cover the responsibilities of the individual employee. 

  1. Position Identification

The position identification is simply the job title of the employee, the manager’s position and who the employee reports to. This is a fill in the blank exercise that provides an indication where the employee and manager are in the organizational structure of the company. 

Example: Position Title: Digital Marketing Associate. Manager’s Position: Head of Digital.

  1. The Results Statement 

As you might be able to deduce, the results statement explains what result the employee is expected to produce. This is kept short and sweet but highlights exactly what the employee is accountable for. It explains the link between the activities of the employee and the strategic objectives of the company. 

Example: I am accountable for producing the below result: Increasing our website traffic by optimizing all content and copy for SEO and readability purposes. This includes previously created and upcoming content not yet developed. 

  1. Work Listing

The work listing creates an itemized list of the individual tasks and functions required to make the result occur. This is broken down into strategic (Defining the results) and tactical (Producing the results) work. The work listing details and identifies what systems, processes and even materials are required to deliver results. 

Examples: 
Strategic Work:

  • Evaluate the ranking and performance of all landing pages.
  • Perform a content audit for SEO, traffic and lead generation.
  • Locate the best available plug-ins and content optimization software.
  • Prepare a list of prioritized action items. 
  • List refreshable and retire-able content.
  • Outline future landing page requirements.
  • Plan the implementation process. 

Tactical Work:

  • Standardize all slugs, metatag descriptions and excerpts of content.
  • Retire legacy articles.
  • Refresh reusable content pieces. 
  • Update all internal and external links. 
  • Draft wire structure of suggested landing pages.
  • Standardize video descriptions and backlinks.
  1. Standards

The standards section of the agreement articulates what level of performance is expected and how the work should take place. This will be split between company-wide and position-specific standards. 

For this section, it is best to develop an understanding of what does and doesn’t work for this position. What mistakes were made before? How might the employee be more successful and what do they need to actively avoid? Provide best practice understanding to give your employees the best chance at success. 

Standards should include quantities, qualities and behavioral expectations that the employee is accountable to. Ultimately, your standards contextualize the employee performance. How are they doing compared to expectations and others? 

Example:

Position Specific:

  • All website pages will achieve green light scores on Yoast for SEO and readability.
  • No backlinks will go to 404 pages. 
  • Priority landing pages will organically feature on page 1 or 2 of Google. 
  • Keywords chosen will be widely used and relevant. 
  • We will reach 500+ followers on LinkedIn as a thought leader. 

Company-Wide:

  • All marketing materials will reflect our brand favorably and honestly. 
  • Sensitive materials will be kept private and confidential. 
  • Our sales experience will remove layers of friction wherever we notice them. 
  • Employee social media profiles will not bring the company into disrepute. 
  1. Signatures

As with any standard agreement, the signature states the mutual understanding and acceptance of the position agreement. The signature should only be obtained if the employee willingly accepts accountability and responsibility for the tasks discussed. This should be dated and remain consistent with the format of all other position agreements. 

Why use a Position Agreement?

Position agreements may come across as a stringent way to restrict the creativity and freedom of an individual employees roles. However, that isn’t necessarily the case. Quite the opposite in fact.

Job descriptions are linear and rarely articulate the standards and expectations of the employer. This creates a gap in understanding. The employee doesn’t necessarily know what they are accountable for even if they have the job description. This issue is the salient feature of a huge problem encountered by workforces. They don’t know what high performance looks like and failure has no context if you don’t make standards known. 

Position agreements create a clear statement of expectation and accountability. The agreement provides obvious grounds for performance adjudication and understanding of what is needed for promotion. It also removes the infinity feeling of work. Employees actually get to achieve completion with their tasks and get the satisfaction of completion. 

Conclusion

Growing psychology theory is focusing on small wins as a centerpiece of motivation. If we can achieve small wins regularly, we are consistently motivated to keep going. The position agreement embeds this framework for employees. They are able to progress through their deliverables and understand exactly what is and is not high performance.

Accountability in position agreements is pervasive and gamifies success through the work listings. Employees know exactly how to demonstrate their worth so the goalposts are never moved. It doesn’t allow confusion as to why certain employees are promoted or even let go because there is a consistent understanding of what constitutes success. 

If everyone knows what success looks like and has a roadmap to achieving it, success is quick to follow.