Practical Leadership Actions #5: How do I ensure clear roles and expectations?

We have recently developed a series of practical leadership actions responsive to major themes that have emerged through our work with over 700 Discovery in Action® (Leading People) program participants.  We have observed six major themes that have consistently emerged as participants have grappled with the question: When do people perform at their best?  These themes are around people feeling supported, valued and safe; creating a ‘team environment’; supporting learning and growth; empowering staff and building autonomy; ensuring clarity of roles and expectations; and creating meaning and purpose. Our participants have also articulated many practical leadership actions they take to address these issues.

Over 6 newsletters we are featuring a set of Practical Leadership Actions relating to each of these themes, generated through our exposure to on-the-ground leaders as well as various examples from blogs, articles and books.  These actions are not provided as definitive or comprehensive lists, but a working set of ideas that we are sharing broadly.  There is a minimum of at least 25 potential actions relating to each of these themes – so plenty of ideas that may spark your thinking and your day-to-day leadership practice!

So this month our featured practical actions are around…

How do I ensure clear roles and expectations?

The development of role clarity for individuals and teams at work is fundamental to healthy and functional workplaces.  In many ways it is the basic and hard work of day-to-day people leadership and management, however it is often neglected in the churn of organisational life or assumptions are simply made that intelligent people will just ‘work it out’!  Neglect of these basics – work planning, setting priorities, clarifying accountabilities, understanding team purpose and scope, communicating performance expectations, assigning tasks effectively, connecting work to higher-order goals etc – often result in a range of problems and symptoms such as relationship conflicts, under performance, inefficiency, confusion about priorities and lack of motivation.  Conversely, actively attending to these basics around role clarity, can play a significant role in building highly functional and performance focused work environments.  The challenge for leaders is to be both skilled and disciplined in consistently undertaking these practices.  We have created a simple one page sheet which contains 26 different ideas for action that leaders can take.  These actions are organised around the following 5 overarching strategies to ensure there is clarity of roles and expectations:

  1. Explain the organisational context and how their work fits – by helping people see the bigger picture and the role they play in it, enables people to more deeply connect with the ‘why’ of their work and the importance of them ‘playing their role’ which drives motivation, performance and accountability.  See more on the importance of ‘why’ in a post about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.
  2. Build understanding of team purpose and role – a key activity for people leaders is to build understanding of team purpose and scope; clarify how the roles across a team fit together; and define clear accountabilities for individuals and teams. This significantly reduces scope for tensions within teams and across teams as well as building the confidence of people to take action knowing their role and the boundaries.
  3. Help individuals to understand their role – leaders who regularly discuss and clarify expectations (in both stable and unstable environments) with their staff, through both formal and informal mechanisms, provide people with high levels of certainty where people are most likely to thrive and optimise performance.   Read more about the importance of certainty in David Rock’s SCARF model.
  4. Set and maintain high standards of performance – people respond positively in an environment where high standards are expected and they have a clear understanding of what good performance looks like – high expectations leads to high performance.
  5. Provide guidance on priorities – one of the simplest yet most important tasks of leaders is to help people prioritise their work.  This can reduce stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed for individuals and teams whilst also maximising productivity by enabling focused effort on the things that matter.

So while there is a list of possible actions for each of these 5 strategies contained in our one-page sheet, there may be many other actions, particularly relevant in your context, that you may also identify.  Of course, we’d be interested in other ideas for action that people have implemented!

This practical ideas list might be used in a variety of ways:

  • Reflect and review on your practice – do I have coverage across all these strategies?
  • Engage with your people – would they like to see more of some of these actions?
  • Select one or two actions from the list that you’d like to experiment more with over the next few months

Good luck and let us know of any other actions we can add to our list!