This month I've been working on an interesting project helping a business define roles.
For start-ups moving into a scaling phase, founders often wrestle with this.
To be able to grow they recognise the need to better define the jobs to be done in the business in the future.
They also fear that doing this will constrain entrepreneurialism, reduce agility and lead to a culture of "that's not my job".
And they're right be have those fears.
Three traps of role definition
Many role descriptions fall into one or more of the classic three traps of designing work:
- Activities not outcomes - reducing or eliminating a team member's autonomy to decide the best way to get their work done.
- Now not the future - failing to provide the space for roles to evolve fast enough as businesses grow.
- Badly designed boundaries - overlapping role boundaries can cause friction and reduce velocity, while gaps between role boundaries lead to process failures.
Poor role design makes it hard for people to do their best work for the business, reduces staff engagement and constricts growth.
Getting role definition right
So what's the best way to create role descriptions that avoid the traps and genuinely harness the motivation of people in a business?
The short answer - there is no single right or wrong way to do it.
But there are three important questions that every team member should be able to answer about their role in a business:
- What's my contribution to the business?
- How shouId I work with others?
- How do I know when I'm succeeding?
If a role description enables someone to answer these questions, then it's probably fit for purpose.
I like to use accountabilities as the basis for defining contributions to the business.
This enables a clear thread from company purpose and mission through to every role in the business. The nesting of accountabilities by organisational layer makes those links super clear.
Using outcomes is a good alternative, but I've found outcomes tend to be framed in shorter timeframes. This means roles need to be redefined more frequently, particularly in fast growth businesses.
I also love collaborative role design (here's how I do that with leadership teams in growth businesses).
In the right cultures, the process of understanding together what work needs to be done across a team or business and then breaking it into roles can unite people around a single mission.
It improves mutual understanding of how roles interact and improves the quality of thinking about role definition.
Using role definitions in practice
You've crafted some wonderful role descriptions collaboratively with your team. So what next?
- G - Get it - is the role properly understood by a team member?
- W - Want it - is it that something they want to do?
- C - Capacity - are they actually capable of doing the role?
For most scaling businesses, using the role description as the basis for a conversation between a team member and their line manager is a good starting point. The goal for this conversation should be to establish a mutual understanding of what the role involves - do they "get it"?
This is a natural lead into a conversation to establish or confirm whether the team member wants that role?
And then the role description can be used to assess capability - and to inform a professional development plan to address any gaps in capability.
Doing this across all roles enables founders to get their teams aligned and focussed on the work that needs doing to accelerate business growth.
It can be a messy winding path to achieve that clarity, but it's one worth walking to unlock human potential to drive growth in a scaling business.