Dr. Nicole Tschierske

Enhancing Performance with Role Clarity

Ever wondered why highly motivated employees sometimes underperform? Role ambiguity might be the culprit. Let’s explore how clarifying roles and responsibilities can transform your team’s performance.

Consider this: do you, as a leader, spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities? If not, it’s time to reflect on whether role ambiguity could be undermining your team’s potential.

Let’s start by defining roles. A role is a set of expected activities and behaviours for employees. It outlines what’s expected, guides job performance, and defines accountability.

Role ambiguity, in contrast, is the absence of clear job expectations. When employees are uncertain about their performance criteria or their organizational contributions, it can lead to stress, frustration, higher turnover, and mental health issues. It also adversely affects job satisfaction and organisational commitment, ultimately impacting job performance. The solution is to establish role clarity.

Role clarity is a dynamic process. It starts with the job description but evolves as employees engage with managers and stakeholders to understand their job expectations. Regular feedback is essential for employees to adapt their behavior as needed. An employee must know their job’s rights, duties, and responsibilities, along with procedural knowledge to fulfill these responsibilities and comprehend the consequences of their role performance.

Role clarity has both objective and subjective components. The objective aspect pertains to the presence and quality of role-relevant information. Insufficient or unhelpful information reduces role clarity. Subjectively, role clarity relies on whether available information aligns with what the individual deems necessary for optimal job performance.

It’s vital to note that while role clarity counters role ambiguity, it doesn’t necessarily prevent role conflict. Role conflict arises when employees experience competing expectations from different stakeholders. Consider matrix-like teams, where members must balance various interests. Role conflict can also occur when personal values clash with work objectives.

To manage these conflicting expectations, effective communication is key. It’s the primary driver in reducing role ambiguity and enhancing role clarity. The time and effort required to clarify roles depend on several factors:

1. Routine vs. Non-routine Work: Complex, non-routine tasks require more role clarification compared to familiar, routine tasks.

2. Experience Level: Experienced employees require less role clarification than newcomers.

3. Need for Clarity: Varying team members may have different needs for role clarity. High-need individuals benefit from more guidance.

Review your team and identify who might benefit from additional role clarification. Regularly evaluating roles is crucial, especially as circumstances and goals change. Roles don’t need formal renegotiation, but ensuring roles evolve to meet new demands is essential.

Beware of overly rigid structures created in an attempt to clarify roles, as this can hinder certain team members. Strike a balance between clarity and flexibility to adapt roles over time.

Role clarity is the key to boosting performance and providing structure, but it should never become stifling. Evaluate whether your team’s structure has unintentionally become too rigid and reflect on the agility you allow for roles to evolve as required. Role clarity is not just about fostering individual growth; it’s about maximizing the collective potential of your team.

(This article is based on a chapter in Better Work: A Leader’s Guide to Creating Happier, Healthier, and More Productive Workplaces.)

Further Reading

Better Work Basics​