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Are Vague Job Responsibilities Holding You Back?

Three risks associated with role ambiguity and how to avoid them.


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Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 6 min read

Office environments around the world are beginning to embrace company culture. The value of their employees’ well-being is becoming a central focus. This trend is positive in many ways and can lead to all-around healthier lives for people.

This conversation can turn in to talk about benefits, pay and time off. What I want to expose is something that seems more trivial and at times, more abstract than needed.

Vague job responsibilities. And the harm they can bring.

Allow me to share a story about my second professional job. I was a victim of a round of layoffs at a design agency. I was searching nonstop for the next stepping stone. I landed a design job at a small marketing agency. On day one, I found myself sitting in a room talking with the owner/CEO/CFO. To be clear, this was one single person.

“What job title do you want?”
He made it sound like I was choosing a card from a deck. Any card. With a confused yet brazen sense of authority on the matter, I took a shot.
“How about Creative Director?”
He laughed. But not in the way I expected, given my moonshot of a reply. It was like considered it.
“That’s taken. How does Art Director sound?”
“Sure,” I replied. Like I cared. This job meant I could once again pay rent; something that was in question one month prior.

This would end up being one of the most aggravating and disheartening roles in the early part of my career. Unclear responsibilities and vague direction were running rampant. Conflict of interest with clients was new to me but became commonplace. I had no idea which way was up but only had myself to blame for it.

In the short period of time it lasted, I learned one very clear lesson. Know what responsibilities are falling in your lap. Do it before you let a title, paycheck or ambition sign on the dotted line for you.

In the midst of allowing people to take on “stretch projects” and “heat experiences,” we must not blur the lines. While professional growth is a tremendous goal, there must be an underlying structure. A career path, with signs and occasional rest stops.

Next, we’re going to cover three areas affected by an excess of ambiguity in a professional role.

Responsibility

This word can be heavy. It can also be the headline of a conversation you will love or dread. But truthfully, it’s an important topic to address when taking any role.

Example: Your email app chimes. A surprise meeting with your boss at the end of the day on a Friday? Without any provocation, this could be something negative. Surprise — she offers you a promotion due to a recent project’s success. You jump at the chance and shortly afterward are enjoying a well-deserved drink at happy hour. Monday rolls in and you realize that you have no idea what new responsibilities are coming your way.

The Risks: First, you may not be ready for the change in responsibility. It could mean direct reports, a change in workload or learning new skills you had yet to consider. Some will label this as an opportunity for growth, but this becomes harder once it’s in motion.

Secondly, and this is the real crux, it could be a role that is not fleshed out by management. As is with the case with many new roles, titles or departments. The risk is that you will be responsible for everything and then nothing. Something could take up months of work and then no longer be in your court. The opposite is also possible; I’ve seen this many times before.

Your Action: With any role, the ground rules need to established. By that I mean, define what the title is, what the role actually entails and what you are responsible for doing.

That includes people, categories of work, related teams; the works. This sets you up for success. It also helps spot areas of potential growth — only this time, from the starting line.

Attaching Value

Once you’re hired or promoted, everyone has shown their cards, right? Potentially but not always.

This is not meant to plant the seed of doubt or concern. What I mean is that the value of an ambiguous role is… well, just that, ambiguous.

For any company to value a position, there must be a clear understanding of it. What work comes from the role. How that is valuable. The responsibility falls both on management and on the employee. Allow me to explain.

The Risks: With the start of any position, someone decided that it would be valuable. But if the responsibility isn’t set, what is being produced may not be unclear. This seems to be most common with new roles, not yet existing on a team.

Without those baseline steps, you can find yourself in an uncomfortable position. The career path fades. The compensation becomes stagnant. Or worse, you become an expendable line item.

Your Action: Get immediate clarity of your new role. Responsibilities. Deliverables. Structure. This applies to everything from creatives to engineers. Everyone.

Your manager should know the value of the role. This should be clear by their communication of work and review of it. But don’t stop there. Find how to excel in the areas that are set and create new ones adjacent to them. Give your team something they didn’t know they needed from the role. Provide valuable answers to questions yet asked.

Metrics & Goals

I work in the creative industry. There are so many challenges of presenting subjective material in an objective manner. But it must happen. 99.56% of creative work must come under some level of measure. Otherwise its art.

Such is the case with the relationship we must accept with any job. Well, any job we’re paid to do. You can mow your grass in any direction you like, I suppose.

When it comes to bi-annual or annual reviews of your work, there must not be ambiguity in how you measure success. It can be broad, varied and even a bit subjective at times. But it can’t be missing altogether.

The Risks: A common misstep is to set review metrics and goals too far into starting a new job. This can waste an entire year or more, as there is either no measure of accomplishments or no tracking of them. Worse yet, this affects compensation, promotions and any other way to create a career path.

Your Action: Don’t let this happen. Establish your metrics and goals associated with your role immediately. Do not wait for a manager to instigate the conversation. While this is something great leaders do, it has the largest effect on you. Take your professional fate into your own hands. Manage it.

In Summary

We all enjoy some level of freedom in our jobs. That feeling of respect and trust to do what is best. Like being an adult in the real world, post-college.

I often remind myself and others of the cold underlying truth. We’re all here for a paycheck. In return, we give time, create widgets, or manage those who create the widgets. The truth is that if you stop doing any work for the next week, you’ll find yourself facing consequences.

This is not to diminish workplace culture, community, or the desire to do fulfilling work. That is the icing on the cake. Many of us couldn’t deal with a job that was void of those elements. I definitely couldn’t maintain my sanity without inspiring people around me.

Before I allow myself to enjoy those benefits, I review that list of requirements. I revisit them regularly. I manage my career path.

  • Establish a clear understanding of responsibility
  • Reinforce and add value
  • Set clear metrics and goals

Once finished, you can take off your calculating robot mask. Be human again and buy a plant for your desk. Ask coworkers about their kids. Plan a happy hour this Friday after work.

The relationship between structure and enjoyment can exist if we allow it. We just need to handle it with clear minds. Manage your career path. Define your role. You will find that fulfillment and success will happily follow.

This article was originally published by Michael LaNasa on medium.

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