Half of your employee's don't know what is expected of them

As shocking as that sounds, a recent Gallup study found that 50% of employees are unclear as to what they should focus on in their roles. As organisational design professionals, we have encountered this issue time and time again and have worked with our clients to significantly lift employee performance simply by focussing on building “Role Intelligence” in their organisations.

What would the impact be if 100% of your employees had clarity about their roles and focussed their energy on high value activity that really supports your business strategy?

There is a myriad of research which points to the fact that as organisations become increasingly agile and globally dispersed, it creates real challenges for employees to remain aligned with their company’s goals and have the direction they need in their roles to actively support the strategic growth.

This, coupled with growing evidence that role clarity, accountability and alignment with strategic goals is essential for driving high performing organisations. Indeed, McKinsey views clear role design and accountability as among the most important drivers of organisational health.

Who is responsible for creating role clarity?

The responsibility for communicating role expectations lies firmly in the hands of people leaders. If leadership is the action of leading employees to achieve goals, then it follows that role clarity and alignment can only be achieved where people leaders have both insight into the strategic goals and can leverage their employees’ unique skills and strengths to achieve these. Of course, it also means that employees need to be informed of any changes in strategic direction as well as motivated enough to take action – Not easy to achieve when more and more responsibilities are piled on overloaded employees, and the goalposts keep moving!

So how do you ensure that as your organisation grows and morphs, you keep your employees focussed on spending time on the right things?

Tips for building Role Intelligence in your organisation

Tip#1: Ask your employees

Part of the challenge is changing the paradigm that roles are static, with rigid KPI’s which should be monitored and reviewed annually! In reality, roles today are continuously adapting to accommodate changing priorities, reflect new learning and technology and support changing business needs.

As a people leader, your role is to stay close enough to your employees to enable you to have a clear line of sight regarding their current activity, and be able to quickly and effectively communicate any changes in direction which will impact their roles.

employees should be spending their time on, you have a very clear understanding of what they’re currently spending their time on.

Your employees, live and breathe their roles every day – they have an intimate knowledge of what is working, what isn’t, what customers really want, how they could be more productive. Taking the time to ask them what they are currently focussed on, what their challenges are and what their customers are saying will help you as a people leader understand what you can do to support them to achieve role clarity and alignment with strategic goals.

Asking your employees about their roles not only highlights what needs to change, but also drives deeper engagement and loyalty. This means that you can take a collaborate approach to shaping your employees’ roles which creates real buy in and behavioural shift.

Tip#2: Give and invite regular feedback

There’s no question that as a people leader, regular feedback to your employees on how they are performing is essential. To be effective, feedback needs to be meaningful, and relate to issues our employees’ really care about.

Effective feedback is always two- way - It involves providing direction and advice to help your employees to learn, grow and adjust their priorities on an ongoing basis. It also means being open to receiving feedback on how you are performing as a people leader, and what you can do to better support your employees’ performance. 

Regular feedback allows incremental adjustments to be made to role content which ensures that the focus on strategic goals is maintained. Upskilling your people leaders to ask the right questions is key - People leaders learning from employees and vice-versa.

Tip#3: Move beyond feedback to coaching

Feedback on its own, while helpful is not enough to create real behavioural shift. For positive action to occur, employees need to not only understand what is required, but be motivated to change. According to the Harvard Business Review, you succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers. This is how people clarify their priorities and devise strategies that resonate with what they care about most and that they will be committed to putting into action. As people leaders, we need to adopt more of the “sell” than a “tell” approach if we want to see real change.

Feedback tells your employees the “WHAT” – Coaching helps them to come up with and own the “WHY”.

In today’s VUCA business world, it has never been more important for people leaders to focus on communicating role expectations, to ensure that their employees are aligned with the organisation’s strategic direction. Ultimately, what employees want most of all is clarity about their role, where they fit in and what the future holds. While it takes time and effort, the dividends it yields from creating alignment, spending time on what matters and boosting engagement, means that you can do more with less!


In the words of Peter Drucker:
“Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right.”