“What do you do?”
It’s a simple enough question heard time and time again—at social and business events, high school and family reunions, and conferences. People should have no problem answering this simple question about their job, then, right? Wrong.
Ask this question and you’ll see that the first response you get will likely be someone’s job title, which reveals little or nothing about a person’s day-to-day. Pushing a bit, you’ll get more inside baseball babble: “I am a lead software developer,” “I run sales for the northern region of XYZ,” and so on. At this point, ask the person their job description to further define their role by naming the two most important things they do. They may come up with tasks that they perform at work, but it’s unlikely that they can connect these tasks to the meaning of their role in the company and what they do to drive business results.
There are two reasons why people can’t answer this simple question:
- We’re so infused with industry jargon. Many people identify so staunchly with their titles and where they fall in an organization that they confuse goals and desired results—what they actually do or achieve—with jargon, mere words.
- What’s more alarming, according to a Gallup poll from September 2015, a full half of the workforce is unclear of what is expected of them on the job. They can neither articulate goals nor their roles within the organization because they flat-out don’t know them.
Clearly, this is problematic and, I would argue, inhibits growth. So what can we, both as managers and employees, do to fix this lack of clarity around performance goals and job function?
As a manager:
- Establish a clear mission and behaviors for your company. A mission is much more than a dusty plaque that hangs on the wall. A company’s mission needs to be lived every day by every person in the organization—starting with the leadership. Jack Welch writes about missions in his book Winning, saying “they give people a clear sense of the direction to profitability and the inspiration to feel they are part of something big and important.” Pairing these with specific behaviors that each person should practice in order to achieve the mission creates a clear path to success for the company and the individual.
- Provide regular, candid feedback. Employees can’t know what’s expected of them if they aren’t told, in clear and honest language, what they need to be doing. Managers should regularly (read: way more than once a year) speak with employees about what more they could be bringing to the job, as well as what they’re doing right.
As an employee:
- Learn how to speak about your job in plain language. Obviously, if your manager is clear about your role, it makes this easier. But it’s still your job to weed out the jargon and learn how to talk about your work so that anyone can understand. If a high-school student were to ask you, “What do you do?” what would you say? If you can describe what you do in a way that even someone completely outside the business world can understand, you’re hitting the mark.
- Develop and practice a one to two sentence job description. And choose your words carefully. What’s easy isn’t always what’s best. The fact is, it takes more effort to be clear and concise than it does to ramble, but no one wants to listen to rambling. Develop a few sentences that clearly and quickly explain what you do (some might call this an elevator pitch). If you can’t do it, you may need to take the initiative and ask your boss for more clear direction.
But why does all this matter? No one can be motivated to strive for a goal if they don’t know what that goal is. If you know clearly what is expected of you at your job, what goals you need to meet, figures you need to hit, you’re obviously more likely to succeed. Following the steps above as a manager, and encouraging your employees to do the same, is a surefire way to make your team more productive and unlock your growth power. If you continue to allow fuzzy job descriptions to persist, you’ll continue to get fuzzy, off-the-mark results. Good communication is hard, but it makes all the difference. Put the effort in up front and you will get results that make it well worthwhile.