To most people, defining a job title is the work of a few sentences. A company recruiter could pull together a few key responsibilities, expectations, and goals within a few minutes and think that they accomplished their task well enough. ]
Defining a role, however, is different.
An employee’s role in a company is far more complex than their day-to-day job might suggest; in fact, defining their position within the company’s strategy can be critical not only for the success of the employee but for the achievement of an organization as a whole.
Having clearly-understood roles both empowers employees to understand how their efforts are contributing to the company’s growth and orients them into alignment with their colleagues and leaders.
The benefits that come from clarifying roles are significant. In 2013, one organizational survey of 1,699 state agency employees working in 45 geographically-distributed offices found that “offices with a high level of role clarification had significantly higher levels of work satisfaction and lower rates of turnover.”
In a way, leaders can view clarified roles as the first of a series of positive dominoes for company performance. After all, it’s well-established that employee satisfaction is directly tied to increased employee engagement. Better employee engagement often leads to higher productivity and performance.
According to data compiled by Gallup, surveyed work units that reported high rates of employee engagement outperformed their least-engaged peers by 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. Engaged groups also experienced significantly lower turnover rates, less absenteeism, and fewer quality defects than their disengaged peers.
Once people understand the role they need to play to further their company’s wellbeing, they can fully commit. They know what they are meant to be doing, feel valuable for putting the necessary work in, and go above and beyond to accomplish their — and by extension, the company’s — goals.
And yet, despite the clear advantages for both companies and employees, relatively few organizations have taken the time to clarify internal roles. While 65% of organizations have an established strategy, only 14% of employees understand it — and fewer than 10% of organizations are thus able to execute their plans.
Given all of this, it is imperative for companies to take the time to invest in the time and effort that role clarification requires. It’s not a process to skip through; properly defining a role cannot be done well in a few minutes’ work. The clarification process requires a carefully structured, collaborative undertaking that ensures that everyone is aligned within the company’s overall strategy — and it starts at the top.
For role clarification to take effect, company leaders must design and implement an effective strategy at every level of their organization. This approach will be different for every company, but at Tyden Brooks, we adhere to an established three-stage procedure.
The process begins with Strategic Planning — in this stage, company executives gather to outline a corporate vision, establish long-term goals, assess our strategic situation, and set our corporate direction accordingly.
Next, we move onto Organization Alignment. During this phase, we focus on ensuring that every employee fully understands and is prepared to fulfill their role.
Each team member works with their team leader to create a job effectiveness plan that effectively aligns their annual objectives to their position, department, and organization. By doing so, we can empower employees at every level of our organization to optimize their effectiveness and contribute to a high-performance culture.
Lastly, we Manage for Results by crafting an approach that ensures that our day-to-day activities are focused in a way that will allow us to meet our short- and long-term goals.
This framework can be retooled to suit most organizations. As you can see, it relies heavily on having a well-established strategy and clarifying the roles that employees hold within that plan.
The strategy will, of course, need to be set by leaders according to the specific needs and circumstances of their organization; however, I can provide a few guiding points on how company leaders can effectively clarify team roles.
Define Expected Achievements As Limited Outputs
When you define a role, your outputs should include the most important results that a given team member needs to achieve. These should be limited to between four and six items — if you add any more, you run the risk of going into too much detail and losing your most important achievements among day-to-day responsibilities.
Output descriptions should also be concise, taking no more than three words. No verbs should be included, either — verbs imply action, and action is more descriptive of an input that a team member may provide than an output result.
Be concise, be specific, and maintain a high-level perspective.
Determine How Results Will Be Measured
Every team member and leader needs to understand how their work will be assessed. Metrics — the specific units of measurement by which an employee’s job outputs are evaluated — will need to be outlined in advance.
Each agreed-upon output should have one or two metrics that offer a method of gauging performance. These metrics can vary depending on the output at hand; they might measure quantities, time, financial performance, variance, feedback, or quality.
The key to designing useful metrics is to describe the measurement process for success, not the targets that constitute success itself.
Clarify Necessary Authority
Before an employee can take on their role, they need to have a clear understanding of the authority they have regarding people, operating, and money decisions.
There are two primary authority levels: complete authority and authority with approval. With the former, an individual has the power to initiate action and make decisions. For the latter, they would need to go to others for approval to finalize a decision.
All this said, some allowances for custom authority permissions may be made if they are required for a person’s given outputs.
These three points are crucial to role clarification and must be considered during the alignment process. Once completed, a team member or leader can conduct a conversation with their manager to agree on the nuances of their role, establish a plan, and determine a follow-up assessment.
Under this approach, employees gain a clear and nuanced understanding of how they fit within their company’s broader search for success. There are no surprises, no uncertainties, and no misunderstandings.
At the end of the day, businesses are driven forward by people, not plans. Given your team their best shot at high performance — spend more than a few moments clarifying roles.
Written by Robert Logemann.
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