Role clarity is an essential aspect of any successful organization and its strategy. Good role clarity not only ensures that employees understand their responsibilities and the expectations placed on them, but it also clearly separates responsibilities among employees, and particularly peers, reducing friction and massively boosting productivity and employee satisfaction.
Without clear roles, employees may become confused or unsure of their duties, leading to decreased productivity and increased conflict—yet only 15% of 350 surveyed businesses invested in improving their daily decision-making processes.
What is role clarity in an organization?
In a company, role clarity refers to the understanding that employees have about their responsibilities and expectations, in contrast to responsibilities and expectations of relevant team members. This may include tasks they are expected to perform, goals they are expected to achieve, and standards they may be held to.
Role clarity has two components:
- Individual role clarity is an individual’s understanding of their own role in the team.
- Team role clarity is an understanding and acceptance of one or more other team members' roles.
Both components of role clarity are required. Thus, a team on which there are "clear roles" would necessarily be one in which every team member understands their own responsibilities, where those responsibilities end, and where other team members' responsibilities begin.
Does every employee really need to know about everyone else's role?
No. It is important to limit the scope of "role clarity" to a particular team or group, and not an entire organization or hierarchy, otherwise role understanding would be impossible for all but the smallest companies. Instead, role clarity should apply within a group. Here are two ways to think about where there should be role clarity:
- By team: There should be clear roles within any managerial unit (a manager and all their direct reports)
- By activity: There should be clear roles for each specific activity or decision
Why is it important to have role clarity?
Crucial to top performing orgs is the ability to make quick, informed, and well-reasoned decisions. When there are clear roles, responsibilities can be executed cleanly. Often, we notice the downsides of poor role clarity, instead of the upsides of good role clarity. The crucial issues with unresolved role clarity are:
- Wasted effort of multiple peers doing redundant work
- Wasted time (and weakening of culture) in having to resolve interpersonal challenges between leaders and peers
- Wasted strategic energy of leaders putting together plans to steer through unnecessary politics
- Missed opportunities for symbiosis, collaboration, and invention between peers
- Weaker productivity because team members may not be working on tasks that best leverage their capabilities or reflect their original job description
- Psychological issues (including frustration, resentment, and depression) relating to role ambiguity.
What are some ways to improve role clarity?
There are 4 key ways that organizations to improve role clarity:
1. Perform organizational design
Having good organizational design is a critical foundation for good role clarity. Organizational design refers to the organizational structure, the high level responsibilities, and the management processes throughout the org. While organizational design is typically performing by C-level executives, strategy departments, and strategy consultancies, we can capture some of the elements here:
- Job descriptions. Starting from the top, succinctly defining the responsibility of each leader and employee.
- Key Performance Indicator (KPI) analysis. Associating 2-5 KPIs with each leader (starting from the top), and assessing whether the current structure has KPIs that correctly roll up to higher levels, and don't leave any gaps.
- "Spans & layers" and reporting relationships. Using the KPI analysis and assessments of how many reports each individual has ("span") and how far from the top ("layers") versus benchmarks, designing a new organizational structure.
- Management review and critical organizational processes. Establishing all the processes that derive from the organizational structure, including KPI/goal setting, management/performance review, annual/multi-year strategy planning, employee satisfaction & culture pulse checking, and so on.
- Governance. Establishing the correct board and other governance structures and tools.
- Communication plan and transition. Building a transition plan to get from the current organization to the future organization, and rolling out a sensitive communication plan.
Some of the benefits beyond improved role clarity are:
- Defining employee roles and purpose. Creating a job description for each team member that includes their key responsibilities, how they fit into the larger picture, and what success looks like for them will help management and the employee understand exactly what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the bigger picture. This level of understanding will also reduce the potential for conflict in the workplace and help team members feel a sense of purpose and ownership over their work.
- Creating alignment between positions and teams with open communications and clear expectations. Being on the same page is an enormous productivity booster for any company, and an open line of communication between employees and management is vital to keeping everyone aligned and on track with organizational goals. However, it's important to ensure that employees are comfortable asking questions and making suggestions to ensure all ideas are considered and explored before final decisions. It's also important to encourage constructive feedback from employees and to give regular performance reviews so managers can identify areas of improvement and communicate them effectively to their team.
- Providing transparency to share information and ideas, increase accountability, and funneling down high-level information to keep everyone in the loop. Sharing information openly and honestly with your team allows them to feel their opinions are valued and heard, which can increase engagement and job satisfaction. Open communication also creates opportunities for collaboration and allows employees to share ideas and thoughts freely, which can help shape the company's direction and identify new growth opportunities. This promotes a culture of trust and accountability between management and employees and helps ensure that everyone feels included in the decision-making process, which can lead to a more engaged and satisfied workforce. Regular communication on projects, priorities, and updates ensures everyone knows what's happening within the organization and allows them to provide input when appropriate.
2. Use the RAPID decision-making framework
Once the organizational structure and processes are set in stone, it is inevitable that some role clarity "hotspots" arise, often where peers have activities and decisions that are highly interrelated, collaborative, and/or mission-critical. In these circumstances, executives often utilize a role clarity framework like RAPID.
RAPID is a decision-making and accountability framework, rooted in extensive study by Bain & Co, to help:
- Clarify roles in activities and decisions
- Hold individuals accountable to their role in those activities and decisions
- Pull leadership “out of the weeds” of activities and decisions
Every activity have 5 distinct roles that interact yield both the decision around the activity and the execution of the activity:
- (I) Input. An expert input provider who provides insights and knowledge needed to make the decision effectively.
- (R) Recommender. The individual who engages Input providers and compiles a recommendation on what the decision should be. Note: the Recommender does the bulk of the work in making a decision (not the Input providers or Decision-Maker).
- (D) Decision-Maker. The individual who receives the recommendation, and chooses (or rejects) it. This person also takes accountability and responsibility for the decision and its impacts.
- (A) Agreer. Ideally avoided, this role is someone who must agree with the Decision-Maker's decision before it can be finalized.
- (P) Performer. An individual responsible for performing part or all of the execution of the activity, which was decided by the Decision-Maker.
The outcome is a table of roles for each activity and involved party, which may be referenced whenever lack of clarity presents itself in the future.
Overall, by using the RAPID framework to define role clarity within an organization, team members can be confident in their roles and responsibilities, and the organization can function more efficiently and effectively.
Generally speaking, it is not necessary to use RAPID for simple problems, completely one-off decisions, or decisions one person makes completely on their own.
3. Get coaching for the team
Leadership coaching involves working with an experienced coach to help employees improve their skills and performance. A coach can help employees understand their roles and responsibilities more clearly, as well as guide how to improve their performance in their specific roles.
Coaching taps into everyone’s inner potential and begins to nurture it, leading to company-wide growth opportunities, culture mindset shifts, and increased leadership qualities among the team members.
There are several categories of coaching, including:
- Enterprisewide coaching
- Group coaching (or team coaching)
- 1-on-1 executive coaching
- 1-on-1 career coaching
Determining which type is better suited for your organization centers around figuring out the outcomes you want from your team and tweaking the coaching style to align better with your goals.
4. As a last resort, hold mediation meetings
Conflict is a common issue in the workplace, and it can be especially difficult to resolve when it involves executives or high-level employees. In these situations, mediation meetings can be an effective way to resolve conflicts and improve role clarity.
During these meetings, a mediator helps the conflicting parties reach an agreement and understand each other's perspectives.
Role clarity is an essential aspect of a well-oiled organization. Through approaches like organizational design, RAPIDs, leadership coaching, and mediation meetings, companies can improve role clarity and ensure that their employees understand their roles and responsibilities. This can lead to increased productivity, improved performance, and a more cohesive and effective team.
Want to talk about role clarity workshops or strategy in general? Get in touch with the partners on the Gaussian Consulting team.
Photo by Josh Calabrese.