How to Get Role Clarity at Work (Advice for Employees and Managers)

Do you have role clarity? Do you know what’s expected of you day-to-day at work? Do you have a clear idea of the responsibilities that fall to you? Do you understand the parameters of your job role? Do you know the path you need to take to advance your position at your workplace?

Let’s talk about role clarity. This post is for both managers and employees. We’ll cover the importance of role clarity, how to ask for role clarity, when to ask, who to ask, and how managers can provide crystal clear role clarity upfront.


 

The Importance of Role Clarity

Role clarity is when an employee knows exactly what is expected of them within the confines of their job; they know each and every one of their responsibilities, they know which tasks they are supposed to accomplish, they know how their work will be evaluated, and they know how their role contributes to the overall goals of the business.

As an employee, not understanding what you’re responsible for is stressful. You might wonder about the quality of your performance or worry that at any moment you could be chewed out for messing something up that you didn’t even know was part of your job.

If you don’t understand your role, then you have no idea how your contributions benefit the company. It’s not motivating to feel like what you do every day doesn’t matter. Over time, it will become easier and easier to shrug things off, and you’ll be left disengaged, apathetic, bored, and wondering what other careers could be out there.

As an employer, if your employees are just standing around waiting for the clock to run out on their workday, it’s a drain on the company’s resources as well as on team morale. People want more than a paycheck; people want to know what they’re doing matters. Employees want to know they’re important. Providing your employees with role clarity lets them know how their actions contribute to the company’s success, which allows them to take pride in their work.

If an employee doesn’t have role clarity, the engagement, accountability, and productivity of that employee suffers. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to do or how a task impacts the goals of the business as a whole, what’s the point beyond earning a paycheck? This lack of clarity leads to a “hey—I just work here” mindset.

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How to Get Role Clarity

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When to Ask

The sooner you can gain role clarity, the better. If there’s an aspect of your job you’re unclear about or a responsibility you’re not sure falls to you, it’s better to ask as soon as possible. Otherwise, you risk making mistakes that could affect the financial wellbeing of both the business and yourself.

When taking on a new job or new position, ask detailed questions about what the job entails upfront. What will your responsibilities include? Who will you report to? How is the role expected to grow and evolve over time?

If you are already in a job role and believe you need more clarity, a one-on-one meeting or performance review is an ideal time to have a private discussion about the scope of your role. Ideally, your manager will schedule consistent one-on-one meetings, but if this isn’t common practice at your workplace, you may need to request this meeting yourself.

Discuss the scope of your role and responsibilities and ensure the details are put in writing. Discussing your responsibilities verbally will add clarity in the moment, but both you and your manager are likely to forget exactly what was agreed upon over time. This can lead to confusion or conflict down the road. Ask where the role document will be stored so that you can each review and add to it as your role evolves.

Who to Ask

Who to Ask

Every business’s hierarchy is different, so use your discretion. Typically, the best person to ask for role clarity is your manager or whoever you report to directly. If they are unsure of the parameters of your role, ask your manager to ask the person that they report to. If you work side by side with the business owner, they may be best equipped to provide you with role clarity.

How to Ask

How to Ask

Asking for role clarity when it isn't provided by your employer or manager can be a tough subject to broach, but it’s important to keep in mind that this information is mutually beneficial to you, your manager, and the company as a whole. Approach the subject this way, and explain how you think gaining clarity on your role will help you do a better job for the company.

Consider the scope of your question. Are you double checking something, or do you want to have a larger conversation about expanding or limiting the responsibilities of your job? As an employee, do you feel you’re regularly assigned tasks that you had no idea were part of the job? Do you feel like there’s more you can do in your role?

Come prepared with your own clear picture of your role’s responsibilities. If you have a job description already, review it, even if you believe it is out of date. You will be able to reference this and work to improve the description with your manager as you discuss your role within the company.

Before you jump into a conversation about role clarity, consider the communication preferences of your manager. How do you think they will respond to the question? How do they like to be communicated with? Do they like direct and straightforward communication, or do they prefer a little small talk? Is your manager introverted or extroverted? Understanding these preferences will help you determine how to ask for role clarity.

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How to Provide Employee Role Clarity

Role description documents must go beyond surface-level job descriptions. They should include a detailed description of the role, the role’s specific responsibilities, who the employee reports to, how performance reviews are handled, what resources are provided by the company, and any other information that’s relevant to the role.

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Create Thorough Descriptions For Job Openings

Establishing clear job clarity begins before a role is even filled. Detailed and accurate job descriptions that fully describe the role will give clarity to applicants before and after they secure the position.

You will be able to use aspects of the job description to create detailed role descriptions for each hire. Additionally, the effort you put in upfront on fully understanding the responsibilities of each role will help ensure you find ideal candidates for every position.

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Keep Role Descriptions Up-to-Date

Where are role descriptions stored, and how often are they updated? You might begin with a clear view of a job role, but it’s unrealistic to think the role will remain exactly the same as an employee grows within your company.

Store employee role documents in a place both you and the employee are able to access. During employee reviews or occasionally after one-on-ones, review the role description with the employee to see if updates are needed.

Has the role changed since the last time you consulted the document? Are the parameters of the role still feasible? What additional duties or responsibilities has the employee taken on?

Seeking this clarity shows direct reports you are interested in their growth and that you’re paying attention to how they are evolving within their role. Having a clear role document will also come in handy if that employee decides to move on from your company. When someone leaves your team, you’ll have a complete picture of what responsibilities they are leaving behind and what you need to look for in your next candidate.

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Ask Questions and Get on the Same Page

Not sure if you’re on the same page about what’s expected? Ask questions and keep the dialogue open between you and your direct reports. During one-on-one meetings, check in with the employee and get their perspective on the role.

Are they happy with their current responsibilities? Do they need any additional role clarity? Are they feeling overwhelmed by the scope of their current responsibilities? Are they looking to expand the role and take on more responsibility?

It’s important to keep these conversations private, so only ask these questions during a one-on-one meeting as opposed to a group setting.

Here are some questions to ask surrounding role clarity:

  • What are the aspects of your role you enjoy most?
  • What are the aspects of your role you enjoy least?
  • Is there anything you need from me that would add more clarity to the parameters of your role?
  • Are you hoping to take on more responsibility in your role now or in the near future?
  • Do you feel like you’re able to keep up with the scope of your position on a day-to-day basis?
  • If we were to expand your role within the company, what would that look like to you?

 


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan's passion for travel led her to design a career as a remote content marketer. Nearing 1000 published articles, she's spent the past decade using her interdisciplinary education to research and write content for a wide variety of industries. Working remotely, Jordan spends half of the year exploring different corners of the world. At home, she's content exploring fictional lands—Spark an immediate and detailed conversation by mentioning Game of Thrones, Red Rising, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings.

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