“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” As a job description, Article II of the United States Constitution broadly sets forth the powers and responsibilities of the nation’s chief executive, two of whom, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, we celebrate on President’s Day. While both men lived under different times and faced different challenges during their respective tenures, they were both hired for the same job with essentially the same job description.
Over more than two hundred years so far, Article II has been flexible enough to adapt to the changing nature of President’s role and a variety of interpretations of the role of the Presidency. Why? One reason might be that the Constitution goes about the job description in a way that is different than many organizations use today, yet that is increasingly necessary in the World of Work; by understanding the job in terms of functions, not just tasks.
Among Washington’s tasks as the first chief executive: establishing precedents such as the two-term limit, ensuring a smooth transition of power to the next administration, and navigating relations with Great Britain and Revolutionary France. Lincoln’s included fighting the Civil War and saving the Union. Each President had vastly different circumstances and challenges to negotiate, but the same functions: commanding the armed forces, executing federal laws, and directing foreign and domestic policy.
By hiring people solely according to a need to perform certain tasks, you risk creating inefficiencies when those tasks change (and they will, in today’s constantly evolving workplace.) By instead identifying the required functions of a role, the competencies required to execute them effectively, and how those functions fit into a strategy, you can gain a better idea of what is needed in that role, adapt more readily to change, and align the role to your organization’s strategy more effectively. If the function of a job changes or if an organization’s strategy shifts, it may be necessary to update and adapt the job description accordingly.
Neither the United States nor the World of Work look now like they did in 1789 when Washington took office, and the tasks the President and everyday working folk have to face are very different, but the functions at the heart of the Presidency and many jobs today are still valid, provided we look closely enough to understand them.