Why we need Role Clarity

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Role clarity is important. People need to understand their jobs/roles–not just the activities they do, and their metrics/comp plan.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on role clarity. By that, at the base level, I mean, “What’s my job?”

There’s an odd dynamic that goes on, at all levels. We get so busy in the activities we do in our jobs that we don’t understand what our jobs are. Of course, we have some idea–if we are sales people, we have to get out and sell, we have to make our quotas. If we are SDRs, we have to follow our scripts, make our numbers for outbound/inbound calls, create SQLs or SALs. If we are managers, we manage……

But as I talk to people in these roles, I start scratching on the surface of these, seeking to get a deeper understanding of what all that means, what’s important, and why. That’s where things start falling apart. At all levels, people don’t know or don’t understand.

But they are so busy doing things, they can’t take the time.

And when they start asking these questions, they don’t know who to ask, or those people they do ask, don’t know.

But why’s this important? If sales people are selling, if SDRs are calling/answering the phones and managers are managing, why do we care?

The clues to this are pretty obvious, they start with continued declines in sales performance, continued declines in job tenure (currently about 16.5 months), declines in employee engagement.

Role clarity is important. People need to understand their jobs/roles–not just the activities they do, and their metrics/comp plan.

They have to have a deeper understanding or context. Some things they need to understand (some of the most obvious up front, some of the more important follow):

  1. What is the job, what are the key responsibilities?
  2. What are the performance expectations?
  3. How will they be measured/compensated?
  4. How does what they do fit/contribute to the organization’s priorities/strategies? We need to connect the dots between the contribution of every person/role/job to the corporate goals and priorities (I love OKRs and the process of establishing OKRs as part of this.)
  5. What is our culture and value system? What does this mean to them and their jobs?
  6. What are the “sacred cows,” why are they important, what happens if we don’t pay attention to them? (For example, in my very first sales job, I had huge freedom in how I did my job. But there were a few things that I learned were “fireable” offenses.)
  7. Why is this important to them, why is it important to their customers (In the generic sense of customers–for example, the manager’s customers are their people)?
  8. Who are our customers? What do we stand for with those customers? Why is this important, how do we leverage these in creating value for our customers?
  9. Who are my customers?
  10. How do we get things done in our company? Note, this is probably more about the “informal” organization than the formal org chart, roles/responsibilities, and so forth.
  11. Where do I go to get help? How do I get it?
  12. What are the resources to help me do my job? How do I leverage them? How do I use them? This includes not only training, tools, processes, systems, programs, but also organizational, partner, and other resources.
  13. How do I grow and develop in the job? Who can help me? How do I leverage them?
  14. What should I be learning to be more effective in my current role? Who can help me, what are the resources?
  15. What should I be learning to grow in the organization and to move into growth roles?
  16. Beyond making my numbers, how do I contribute to the organization, how can I express my ideas?
  17. What happens if I disagree? What is our process for resolving these?
  18. What is our problem management process? How do I help my customer when there are problems? How do I escalate?
  19. What can you (my manager) do for me, what expectations should I have of you?
  20. And more…..

Most of these aren’t part of a formal job description and shouldn’t be. Many of these are things that cannot and should not be part of a formal onboarding process (“Take these training programs, go to these resources on our internal site….”)

Many of these will be revisited and evolve over time, both because we mature in our roles and our companies/priorities change, so we have to reset our expectations and understanding of the roles and expectations.

But many of you are probably thinking, “Yeah, Yeah, Dave. But why is this so important to our jobs and role clarity?”

I think there are several areas:

First, as our businesses, markets, customers, and lives become more complex, we struggle to understand and make sense of what’s going on and what it means to us. Just as “sensemaking” is important in helping our customers gain greater understanding and confidence in the decisions they make, everyone in our organization, at all levels struggle with the same issues.

Related to the first point, we can never anticipate all the situations that arise, we can never develop rules, procedures, processes, scripts, playbooks that address every situation each of us faces. (Though for some reason, many organizations and managers try.) In order to do our jobs and perform, we have the ability to figure things out. The richer the context each of us have about our roles/jobs give us greater capability/confidence in doing our jobs.

Role clarity is critical to building, reinforcing, and growing the values and culture of the organization.

Our companies evolve and change constantly. As a result, our roles/jobs are constantly changing. Too often, we get stuck in what we have done and how we always did it, when those things are no longer effective or impactful. We have to consciously reset ourselves and our understanding of what we should be doing.

Too often, we simply stop paying attention. We are diverted by being busy, we focus on activities, finding out too late, that things have changed, our jobs have changed, the world has changed.

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