Managing job and career ambiguity

Managing job and career ambiguity.png

A poorly defined job role or lack of clear path for evolution can create uncertainty and significantly decrease motivation and engagement. As a manager, you are in the hot seat to ensure your employees don’t have job ambiguity. In addition, there’s a lot you can do to help your employees deal with career ambiguity.  Let’s take a look.

Job ambiguity

With digital transformation and an ongoing search for increasing productivity and effectiveness, job roles are changing at a furious pace. Often, roles change with no formal documentation. New tasks are introduced, new priorities are added but seldom is anything explicitly taken away or deprioritized.  The result can be chaos and confusion for employees who feel like it’s impossible to get it all done and can’t see their way clear to fixing it. Uncertainty is one of the primary threat triggers of stress, and this kind of situation can create frustration which can grow into anger and hopelessness.

But job uncertainty isn’t just a result of changing work conditions. This type of ambiguity can happen not only because of changes in the workplace, but also when an employee moves from one job to another or when there is no formal job description defined for a role.  As a manger, you are directly responsible for dealing with job ambiguity. Here’s what you can do to avoid and address it with your team.

The most important thing you can do is to ensure that there are clearly defined and documented roles and responsibilities. What is the work that needs to get done? What are the primary outcomes that the team member is responsible for? Every team member should have a clearly documented job description which outlines their responsibilities.

But in addition to what needs to get done, how things get done is just as important. What are the key steps in the process? Who does the employee need to work with at each step in the process?  This usually isn’t part of the job description, but important processes should also be documented, or at least discussed with the team.

When changes to priorities and process occur, work with your team to put the changes in context for each role on the team. If the changes impact the entire team, you should discuss it as a team as well as working with each individual. Some key questions to work through are:

·         How will the change impact each role?

·         If new priorities are being added, where do they fit with the priorities already established?

·         What can be deprioritized?

 For people who are new to a role, it’s critical to take the time to ensure they understand the role and what is expected of them.  Sit down with them when they are getting started and walk through it. If they have peers who do a similar role, assigning a “buddy” can be helpful. Provide opportunities on a regular basis in the first few months for the team member to ask questions and get clarification as they become familiar with the role.

Career ambiguity

Career ambiguity happens when there is no clear path for growth. Some (usually large) organizations have career paths defined with very specific steps and even learning to follow. But most people don’t have that luxury, and even when these paths exist, many people will simply focus on their job without prompting. As a manager, there are many things you can do to allay career ambiguity for your team members.

Start by having regular conversations with each of your team members about their career goals. This is an area where employees often need coaching. You can help your team member think about what they want next in their career by asking pointed questions about what kind of tasks, responsibilities and accomplishments they would like to evolve towards. You can help them to think through the steps in creating a career vision if they are up to the task.

Once you have an idea of how your employee wants to evolve, you can work with them to create some career goals and an action plan to get there. Help them think about what skills they need to get there and what types of activities they can do to acquire them. You may be able to help with stretch assignments or with other project-based opportunities. Share with them the importance of a learning plan, mentors and sponsors in achieving their career goals. You may be able to help identify learning opportunities and introduce them to potential mentors or sponsors.

Not all employees are interested in creating a career vision and plan. That’s ok. For these employees, you’ll want to find other ways to keep them motivated and engaged.

All in all, first-line managers are the best positioned to help employees avoid job and career ambiguity. Make sure you take time out of the fire drills and business priorities to focus on this important topic on a regular basis.