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Are you struggling with a lack of role clarity?

BY Michelle McQuaid

When it comes to completing our work, we all want to do well. Succeeding, however, depends on us having a clear set of expectations and measurable outcomes that deliver value for our team, clients, and organization.

New international psychosocial standards note that a lack of role clarity when there are:

  • Unclear, inconsistent, or frequently changing expectations.
  • Competing job demands with no clear guidance for us on how to prioritize the work.
  • Uncertainty about who is responsible for what.
  • The same task being assigned to different people.
  • Multiple reporting lines or supervisors.

Our research at The Leaders Lab has found that the anxiety and confusion created by these challenges can increase our stress, reduce our productivity, and decrease our levels of job satisfaction. It can also contribute to team tension and conflict.

So, what can we do practically to minimize the lack of role clarity in our workplaces?

Unfortunately, the ever-evolving and fluid nature of most of our jobs can make even the most well-crafted job descriptions quickly obsolete. As Peter Drucker notes, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” This is why the most effective job descriptions are living documents that are regularly revisited and updated.

To ensure a shared sense of responsibility, it’s also essential that job descriptions are carefully crafted with both leaders and team members. These conversations sow the seeds of alignment, support accountability, and set everyone up for success.

We recommend that leaders and team members collaboratively review the organizational vision, values, and strategy, and then come to an agreement on the following aspects of the role:

  • The Why: What is the purpose of the role? How does it contribute to the organizational/team vision? What positive impact does the role have on others? What aspects make the team member proud to fulfill this role?
  • The What: What tasks are required for the role? What are the goals to help achieve organizational/team objectives? Which key tasks are essential for attaining these goals? What strengths—skills they excel in and enjoy—can the team member leverage to fulfill these tasks? How will the impact of these tasks be measured?
  • The How: What logistical requirements does the role entail? How can organizational values be embodied through this role? To whom does the role report? Who are the crucial stakeholders for this role—both those supported by the role and those supporting it? What organizational and team practices, routines, and tools should be integrated into the role? Where and when is the role executed?
  • The Growth: What does the team member wish to learn and develop through this role? How does this contribute to realizing the organizational/team vision? Which learning and development opportunities would be most valued?

We recommend treating these agreements as a ‘Finalized Draft’ of the job description, subject to revision based on the dynamic nature of the work undertaken—whether monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually. We encourage leaders and team members to schedule a date for mutual accountability during these reviews.

While this conversation may initially seem overwhelming, it becomes quicker and easier with more frequent discussions. It not only streamlines the process by making necessary minor adjustments but also saves a considerable amount of unnecessary effort. This approach contributes to improving role clarity and fostering psychological safety in the workplace.

How do you currently address the issue of role clarity in your workplace to support the mental health and well-being of your team?

For a podcast with practical examples to help, click here.

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