Employee retention is a persistent issue for all businesses, and according to the results of the latest Pulse Survey of the Australian Human Resources Institute the average level of staff turnover was around 16%.
For many, this rate is considered too high, with more than two-thirds of the respondents believing that turnover of 10% or less would be ideal. The survey also indicated that almost 60% believed turnover in their workplace had a negative impact on workplace productivity.
What is interesting, is that more than half of this turnover came from younger workers (35 years of age or less) and was highest among those occupying entry level, graduate or junior roles. Although you might reasonably expect younger employees to exhibit higher turnover, the results from the AHRI survey show that younger employees are leaving their employers at a rate that is at least 2.5 times greater, compared to all other positions and ages.
These results indicate that there is a lot of unproductive recruiting, especially among entry-level jobs. If that is the case, what can employers do to reduce turnover? One solution is greater role clarity.
In an article published in 2012 by the Harvard Business Review, author Tammy Erikson argues that without clear role descriptions employees are more likely to waste their energies negotiating their roles within their teams rather than focusing on their productive tasks. To paraphrase the article, without role clarity, employees often get involved in unnecessary politics and turf wars.
More importantly, the research also suggested that collaboration improved when roles were clearly defined and well understood. The reasoning behind this conclusion was the finding that team behaviours improved when employees felt that their roles had clear boundaries, and that allowed them to do a significant portion of their work independently.
Renewed focus on role clarity
In an increasingly dynamic and connected global economy, new businesses are constantly being created and existing businesses are re-inventing themselves. In response, jobs and job roles have been changing at a frenetic pace. Employers are expected to meet and embrace these changes, but often without any consideration of what the new role expectations are for employees.
Many businesses also assume that their employees understand how their roles directly affect the success of the company. What then, is the likely outcome if those roles are not well defined (or at all) and the responsibilities and accountabilities are unclear?
The benefits of role descriptions
The advantages of adopting a systematic way to create and sustain role descriptions go well beyond simply reducing role confusion and improving collaboration.
Specific role descriptions can be very useful when used in the following ways:
Recruiting and attracting talent
- Ensures that the position is well defined and understood, first by the business and then by the potential recruit.
- Assists the recruiting process by helping to frame interview questions and conversations with role candidates.
- Explains how the recruit can contribute to the organisation and vice versa.
- Demonstrates that the business is structured and well organised.
Handovers, induction & training
- Promotes alignment with, and provides context for the company’s culture, values and purpose.
- Provides a valuable reference for handovers and assists an incumbent to introduce the new role recipient to the breadth and depth of all their role tasks.
- Introduces development and training required for performing the role tasks.
- Creates objectives to assess the performance of new recruits within a probationary period.
- Provides clear role responsibility and accountability.
- Reduces confusion by eliminating unintentional job overlap.
- Defines how the role fits within the business and how it intersects with other roles, workflows and teams.
- Explains how the employee can help the business execute their product or service offering.
- Improves collaborative behaviours by providing a secure framework for employees to work independently and creatively.
- Defines what the expected performance in the role should look like.
- Establishes an objective basis for measuring and managing performance.
- Provides a useful reference for counselling employee disputes and discipline issues.
Innovation and knowledge management
- Provides a contextual framework that will assist employees seeking guidance.
- Facilitates the sharing of stories about why a company does the things it does, in the way that they do them.
- Promotes the capture of ideas on how to improve current processes so they are more effective in the future.
- Supports the idea that the role is part of a career, rather than a simple placeholder for a job.
- Provides a factual basis for managing career progression and succession planning.
- Helps establish the networks available to the employee for advice and mentoring.
Creating & sustaining role descriptions
How a business creates, manages and maintains their role descriptions is a significant issue. When they exist, most role descriptions are stored as static documents, either in hard copy or Word documents. When the role and role tasks change, and they often do, how then does a business capture these changes to reflect the new role descriptions without the time and effort spent in locating and updating these documents?
The answer to this problem lies with technology and being able to link role descriptions to task maps instead of linking them to individuals. By consciously separating “roles from souls”, a business can use task maps to show where capabilities are lacking or duplicated for employees, for teams and for the organisation.
The benefit of using task maps for this purpose is that they also provide a visual representation of your business processes and workflows. Given that business processes tend to change more often than employees, it makes logical sense to innovate around workflow rather than attempt to react to every change that impacts an employee’s role.
ADAPT by Design has created a cloud-based task mapping system that links directly to a role description. Whenever any task map is updated, all the role descriptions associated with those tasks are updated dynamically. An employee can have multiple roles, which will show all their tasks on their personal profile giving them clarity of their position within the company.
If you would like to know how to create and dynamically sustain effective role descriptions matched to your business requirements, please get in touch.
- Australian Human Resources Institute, October 2015; AHRI Pulse Survey – Turnover and Retention (19 pages).
- Harvard Business Review, April 5, 2012; The Biggest Mistake You (Probably) Make with Teams, by Tammy Erikson.
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