Role ambiguity

I couldn’t find any survey or data, but you can find a lot about how role ambiguity is one of the main reason for conflict at work. People are using different terms like poor communication and poor management, but when you read their explanations is all boils down to one issue: lack of clear definition of what expect from people to do and what are their responsibilities.

At least from my own 25 years of observation, most of the conflicts between people were based on two categories:
1) A expected B to do something, but B was never aware that he was expected to do it.
2) A didn’t expect B to do something since he is responsible for doing it, but B did it.
Both of those scenarios, including misunderstanding around who is managing certain assets, can be resolved by defining people roles. Paradoxically, most of the people believe that we have this definition embedded in the job description that was used to recruit us to do the job.

Regretfully this solution is not working. Otherwise, I wouldn’t write this post. The first question that people have when they hear and understand the failure of job descriptions is, what causes it.

There are three reasons why this system is not working:

  1. Job descriptions are used to hire people. Once people start to work, they are taking new responsibilities and giving other duties away. While what the person who is attached to the job description is changing all the time, the job description stays outdated. Therefore, job description owns and kept in an unknown place by the HR department. Who wants to use unrelated data anyway? By the way, most of the HR department will associate you with a grade and a title. They also know the value of a job description.
  2. People are social creatures that help each other. Every time that someone asks you to help with a task, to join a project, or to be part of a committee that promotes volunteering in the community; you are taking new responsibilities. Those are usually short term responsibilities, and they will never appear in any job description, but you are responsible for them. The result is, again, an outdated and irrelevant job description.
  3. Job descriptions created, in many places, for people and not based on business need. When a company spends time to define all the roles that needed to run an organization and then assign people to the required roles, it is scarce to have a person that designate to one position. When roles reflect all the necessary functionality to reach organization purpose, people will be assigned to 3-5 roles, not one. Because Job description not covering all the business needs, people are taking responsibilities. Those responsibilities are known just in an informal way. Excellent management system.

The bottom line is that no one is referring to job descriptions. The real definition of people responsibilities and what they manage to exist in people head, many heads. When data exist in people minds, it is clear why we have poor communication, poor management, and role ambiguity.

Resolving role ambiguity

The first step is to define all the functions/roles that your organization needs to reach its purpose. Follow the fractal structure of the organization and start from the main trunk. Define all the functions required to achieve the company purpose (even if they are groups, departments, or divisions right now). For each function define a purpose derive from the company purpose, list of assets the function responsible to manage and a list of expected responsibilities assigned to the function. Repeat this step for all functions that are groups recursively until you reach just roles. This exercise will produce all needed roles to reach your company’s goal. You also broke down all your company roles into lego parts that will enable you to easily and quickly assemble different structure to respond to business needs. Yes, another step for an agile organization.

The second step is to assign people to the roles based on their skill sets and competencies. It is OK to assign a person to several roles.

The third and most important step is to find a system that:

  • Can store this data
  • Enable people to keep their data updated easily
  • Display the information visually
  • Enable people to search for people or roles based on captured data
  • Display all roles, and role definitions assigned to a person

Without a system, the data that you created and collected so far in this exercise is going to end up exactly like your current Job Description. If you are looking for a tool like that, Galaxies has the right solution available for you as a SaaS solution in a very attractive price tag.


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