The real reason your roles are not clear

Provide clarity to employees

We can almost include as a template ‘clarify roles’ as the next step at the end of any planning day.  Seems to be the perpetual org development activity, along with ‘sort out cross-functional relationships’.

Here’s what’s not addressed: the reason roles aren’t clear is because we like it that way!

How do I know this?  Because you would take a stone out of your shoe if it was hurting.  Because when your friend recommends a certain dish from the menu, you give it a try.  Because, in the end, the world around you is the world you have created, which means you must like it that way.  Otherwise you would change it.

Getting roles clear is no harder than saying either “here’s what I want you to deliver”, or “here’s what I intend to deliver”.  This is the starting point, then discuss.  If you can’t reach agreement, boss makes the call.  Then list them up, and you’ve got yourself a role.  Make sure jobs higher in the hierarchy have longer timespans for what they are delivering so you don’t get compression in the levels, and you’ve got the general idea.

So why isn’t clarifying roles as common as ‘here’s your email address’?  Here are some of the usual reasons:

  • It will stifle creativity” – nope, creativity is stifled by a) unclear outcomes and boundaries b) specifying ‘how’ it needs to be done c) not having a good enough relationship so people can come back with ‘here’s a better outcome we should be doing’ d) people having work that is either under or overwhelming (too short or long in timespan)
  • I pay them enough so they should work it out” – nope, you pay them enough so, once you’ve partnered with them to create clear outcomes that will benefit those who you serve, you can trust them to deliver it
  • We need clarity from above” – face it, that’s never going to happen, so waiting for that before you get started is like refusing to go work until you’re given a jetpack
  • That’s micromanaging” – nope, that’s called managerial leadership, which is what you do when you partner with people, on behalf of the organisation, to create clear outcomes they will deliver that will mean something.  See stifling creativity

I’m not saying it’s easy to create clear roles.  It’s not, just like sitting down with an architect to design your renovations is often a head-wrecking exercise as you have to decide what you really want.

And that’s why we avoid it – because it’s a decision.  A choice.  And you might get it wrong.  And you might fail to deliver.  Or your people might which means you’re going to have to raise that.

And that’s the real reason it doesn’t happen.

Because making choices is hard, it requires choosing to be accountable, and it leaves us exposed.

Which is why the real choice is actually quite a deep one – are you the sort of person who takes accountability?

Answer this question first, then we can talk about clarifying roles.


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