What is Role Clarity?

What is expected of employees? While it’s important that leaders can answer that question, it’s perhaps more important that employees can answer it themselves. They should know what they need to do, how they need to do it, and which order they need to do it in. They need role clarity.

Role clarity is a measure of how well employees understand their jobs. More specifically it’s an understanding of the tasks, processes and responsibilities of their role and the roles of their colleagues. Role clarity forms the foundation of an efficient, productive and successful business.

At the opposite end of the scale, a lack of role clarity at work, otherwise known as role ambiguity, has the potential to do as much bad as role clarity can do good. It is critical for a modern organisation to give clarity of roles and responsibilities to workers if both the business and its employees are to succeed in the long run.

What is role clarity?

A business is a lot like a car engine – a collection of specialised parts working together to push the sum forward. If a part doesn’t work quite as it should, performance is affected. If multiple parts don’t work as they should, the entire machine is at risk of breaking down.

Role clarity is the degree to which your team members understand their role and responsibilities. It ensures that every cog, crank and piston in your engine performs to the best of its ability, which enables the business as a whole to reach peak performance.

Role clarity is not simply what is listed on a job description. It is an employee’s understanding of their own role, including all the nuance and unwritten rules, as well as how the role fits within colleagues’ roles, including areas of crossover. It enables work alignment and enhances internal collaboration and functionality.

What is role ambiguity?

Role ambiguity sits at the opposite end of the scale to role clarity, and it’s an all too common phenomenon in modern organisations.

Many companies, for example, will provide a new salesperson with a laptop, a mobile phone, a list of clients and the keys to a vehicle, then leave them to work out how they will achieve their KPIs.

This rarely sets a salesperson up for success. The employee isn’t clear on the responsibilities of their role, the processes they need to follow, or the daily or weekly activities they need to complete. They don’t know how much time they should spend on lead generation, developing relationships, managing current accounts, internal meetings and admin. Fewer specifics equal more ambiguity.

If your team isn’t clear on what a good week looks like, they’ll gravitate to the enjoyable things, like visiting their favourite clients, and avoid many of the important things, like admin and cold calling – tasks that are critical to business operation and growth.

Organisations need to help workers maximise their efficiency and effectiveness. Trading role ambiguity for role clarity is one of the best ways to do just that.

What is the importance of role clarity?

The importance of role clarity is laid bare when you consider the consequences of role ambiguity. When people aren’t 100% sure what they are supposed to be doing, the processes they are supposed to be following, or with whom responsibilities lie, there are a wealth of knock-on effects:

  • Operational inefficiency.
  • A constant stream of problems to fix and issues to solve.
  • A lack of accountability.
  • Stress, anxiety and low employee morale.
  • Ultimately: a failing business.

On the flipside, role clarity can enhance a business in a wealth of ways, including:

  • Increased operational efficiency.
  • Enhanced accountability and ownership.
  • Faster onboarding and training of new employees.
  • Reduced job overlap.
  • Enhanced measurement of employee performance.
  • More input from employees on business and process improvements.
  • Higher team morale, greater job satisfaction and lower employee turnover.

It could be argued that giving employees a set of instructions that are too rigid might result in a lack of freedom, creativity and adaptability. But when offered in the right way, role clarity doesn’t infringe on autonomy. It simply offers a clear outline of goals, responsibilities, priorities and processes. Employees are still welcome to suggest better ways of working, to find their own way to get their job done, and to inject a bit of themselves into their work.

What are the benefits of role clarity?

You don’t have to take our word for the benefits stated above. According to a study by Effectory, 53% of workers surveyed said they had high role clarity. Of this 53%:

  • 86% reported high levels of effectiveness.
  • 84% reported that they intended to stay in their current role.
  • 83% reported high levels of productivity.
  • 76% reported a high level of satisfaction with leadership.

The same report found that workers who believe they have high role clarity are 53% more efficient and 27% more effective than workers who believe they have low role clarity. The research stated that in teams with high role clarity, overall work performance increases by 25%.

If your entire team is able to increase its performance by 25%, it’s not unreasonable to think that you’ll also enjoy a sizeable increase to your bottom line. Such is the power of giving workers a clear understanding of their role.

How do you provide role clarity?

The ‘why’ of role clarity is compelling. The next question: how?

The first step is to understand the level of clarity that your employees currently have about their roles. A cleverly structured employee survey is a great way to do this. This would usually begin with a question like ‘do you know what is expected of you in your role?’ You can then ask the employee a series of questions to understand the reason for and the level of role clarity or role ambiguity.

By giving statements around role clarity that an employee can agree with to varied degrees, say on a scale of 1-10, you can even develop a role clarity score. This can prove a valuable metric, as it allows you to compare employees to one another and gain an average across teams and your entire organisation. You can also get team members to retake the survey on a regular basis to track how their role clarity develops over time, and to use role clarity in performance management.

There are four main ways to improve role clarity in the workplace:

1. Clearly define roles

You can’t expect an employee to have role clarity if you don’t have it yourself. You need to develop an in-depth description of each role. Role clarity examples include tasks, responsibilities, processes, purpose, expectations and goals/KPIs. It’s also important to understand how each role works amongst the others.

2. Communicate clearly

Once you have detailed each role clearly, create processes that ensure this definition is communicated clearly to every employee. Provide documentation where necessary – things like process guides and to-do lists. Ensure each team member knows the ‘why’ of their position, and how they contribute to the organisation’s success.

3. Promote transparency

Role clarity isn’t a box to tick – it’s an ongoing process. Ensuring role clarity is sustainable within your team is about promoting a transparent culture where everyone knows what everyone else is up to. Collaboration tools like Slack, Asana and MS Teams offer a fantastic way to provide regular updates.

4. Review and adjust

Roles change as businesses change. Regularly review and adjust/update your job roles to ensure they continue to serve the best interests of your organisation and make it as efficient, effective and productive as possible.

Bringing role clarity to your organisation

Are your employees clear on their roles? Are you? These can feel like big questions to answer... so we’re here to help.

At SLP our leadership performance experts are ready to help you get the most out of your team – a process that begins with both you and they understanding exactly what is required in every role. We can get your business engine purring, creating a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.

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