How to clone your best workers Featured

9:56am EDT July 22, 2002

Three years ago, John Moser, who handles human resources for Hilliard-based Micro Electronics Inc. and its Micro Center stores, didn’t have much in the way of job descriptions to give employees, who number 2,200 among 15 stores from coast to coast.

“We had what I would call the vanilla variety or generic variety like many organizations do. They met the requirements of a job description in terms of duties and responsibilities, but they weren’t in-depth as far as specific tasks the person would perform in that job,” he says.

Moser injected more life into those descriptions, as well as employee performance appraisals, by seeking the expertise of his own best workers. It was a strategy he learned through The Ohio State University’s Center on Education and Training for Employment and a process called DACUM, Developing a Curriculum, from Robert Norton, a professor there.

Moser now has detailed descriptions for 30 positions in the Micro Center retail division, including cashiers, service technicians, sales staff, managers and supervisors. He also has a better way to train and evaluate employees.

“We can be much fairer. We can be much more specific in giving feedback to our employees and in defining expectations we have for new people,” Moser says. “Many companies bring on, say, an administrative assistant [and] the next question is, ‘What’s that? What do I do?’ This takes away all that ambiguity.”

Cream of the crop

DACUM starts by drawing on the expertise a company already has: its best workers.

“If you want workers to be successful, it’s important to learn what successful workers are doing,” explains Norton, who has helped businesses use the DACUM process for more than 20 years.

Companies find five to 12 top-notch workers in the same position and ask them to analyze their own job duties through a series of steps, guided by a facilitator who has no experience in that position. For example, Moser gathered his five or six best warehouse supervisors to participate.

“Reactions by the people were very favorable, because they were recognized as being the experts in their job,” he says.

The group spends two days formulating the job description as follows:

  • “We start with a blank wall,” Norton says, explaining that participants use open-ended brainstorming to list their duties. “It’s a scattergun approach as opposed to a rifle approach.”

  • Next, the group decides what specific tasks are relevant to each duty. For example, one duty of a homeowner might be to maintain the lawn, while tasks would include mowing the grass and watering flowers.

  • Members also brainstorm the required knowledge, skills, behaviors, tools and future trends related to their positions.

  • They then review and refine job tasks, making sure each is precise. If one task is to record data, they determine what type of data.

  • Tasks are also put in a sequence, or the most likely order of completion. “Don’t put the most important one first; it’s work flow — the normal sequence of performing that duty and task,” Norton says.

Moser says a key to the success of DACUM is selecting the right facilitator.

“This goes beyond just simple organization skills,” he says. “It really is a rather intense effort to facilitate this process, because you’ve got five or six people interacting with you all the time with basically a blank piece of paper.”

A process for change

Norton has facilitated or taught the DACUM process, which costs approximately $2,000 per workshop plus expenses for facilitators, at other local and national companies including AEP, Techneglas, Ross Labs, Motorola Inc., Eastman Kodak, United Airlines and Coors Inc. Using the process, managers can evaluate what’s required for a promotion or lateral move within the business.

“Many companies use this for pay implications and certifying competency,” Norton adds.

Higher education facilities including Columbus Public Schools and The Ohio State University use DACUM for curriculum development.

Micro Electronics plans to continue using DACUM in other divisions, so Moser became a facilitator. For $995, he spent a week learning the process from Norton.

“Then it’s just the cost of getting the people together for a couple, three days,” Moser says. “If they’re local, that probably isn’t much cost. For an organization that is centrally based, that has the majority of its employees under one roof, it’d be minimal cost — basically just the cost of the leader training and then their time.”

The investment, he points out, was worthwhile for Micro Electronics, especially when it comes to having such detailed job descriptions — and a way to better evaluate employees.

“One thing we can say is that people are accustomed now to specific job feedback as opposed to a generic evaluation,” he says. “The more specific that can be, it can only help to improve their job performance.”

For more information, contact Robert Norton, DACUM program director, Center on Education and Training for Employment, The Ohio State University, at 292-8481 or visit