How to Successfully Clarify Employee Roles

One of our clients has experienced major improvements in both employee productivity and turnover over a six-month period. Achieving these improvements took less effort than one would think. After evaluating their original situation, we were able to narrow their productivity and turnover issues down to a root cause: accountability. More specifically, the real culprit was that there was little or nothing to hold people accountable to.

Key Questions to Ask to Help Clarify Roles and Responsibilities

We followed a simple but telling diagnostic process. We asked the leadership team to complete some management tools we use to answer the following questions:

  • What are all the roles in your company?
  • Who is in charge of each role?
  • What leading and lagging measures tell you that each role is functioning well? Are you measuring them?
  • What are the top 5 to 9 processes in your company?
  • Who is in charge of each process?
  • What leading and lagging measures tell you that each process is functioning well? Are you measuring them?
  • For each position in your company, have you identified each person’s top 5 accountabilities?
  • How will you measure that the accountabilities are met? Are you even measuring them?
  • How did you measure whether they were getting done?

Understanding Expectations at the Organizational Level

The specific answers to these questions were less important than what the management team learned about themselves. They had not thought through what they expected from everyone. They did not agree on what everyone should be doing. Most people were not focused on what they needed to be focused on. Many key issues were not being addressed by anyone because no one felt it was their responsibility. Most importantly, the majority of the employees were working really hard on the wrong things. People that had previously been considered star performers were actually performing poorly and vice versa.

As I dug a little deeper, I found there was a leadership mindset underlying all of these problems. It is actually a common small-company mentality: “We do not want anyone to say ‘that is not my job’.” It comes from a “start-up” mindset where everyone does everything because they have to. That is true in the “start-up” phase, but a company is best served by moving away from that mindset as quickly as it can.

Evaluating Employee Roles Annually

Roles need to grow with the company, and the leadership team needs to reevaluate roles at least annually in the earlier years, sometimes even more often as the company and its needs evolve. While teamwork should always be encouraged, it is always important to make sure that people are held accountable to do their jobs and that the company has the proper resources and roles in place to achieve its goals.

Accountability vs. Responsibility

Holding Employees Accountable

It starts with accountability versus responsibility. The person who is accountable gives something voice and is answerable when something does not get done. This person may or may not be responsible for doing the physical task. When there is more than one person assigned accountability for the same outcome, you have given the opportunity for either one to claim that it was the other person’s fault.

Holding Employees Responsible

Responsibility is different from accountability because it can be shared and delegated. In both responsibility and accountability, it is important to assign them to a person that has the skills, knowledge, experience, and ability to get what you need done. While attitude and effort is great, if what you need is a rocket scientist and you the assign the project to someone with a below-average IQ, you cannot expect a successful outcome. If you assign the marketing function to someone with no marketing training or experience, you should know what you are going to get.

Carry this idea over into employees’ everyday tasks. By clearly defining employee roles from the start and what outcomes will define success, it becomes very clear who should fill those roles. In addition, I found that unqualified people back out or quit rather quickly when we have made it clear what is expected from the position and what the consequences are for not meeting those expectations.

In my previous article, “The Importance of Defining Employees Roles”, I have already articulated for you what should be in a position description. I recommend that you cover all of those points when defining your position. In the end, the position profile, scorecard, and holding people accountable serve as tools for motivation, reward, and feedback. Failure to use these tools leads to mediocrity.

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