Clearly Defined Roles – Keeping a Steady Course During Change

We are on the cusp of a new season in the NFL. In the next two weeks and through early February the weekends of many American households will be dominated by gameplay from Thursday evenings through Monday night.  You could spend a whole book on the love of this game and what attracts people to its visual excitement, strategy, statistics and off-field stories. One of the aspects I find deeply interesting is the clear definition of roles and responsibilities.

Each of the 32 teams winds down to a 53 man roster before the season begins.  In addition to the players there is a cadre of coaches, tacticians and specialists who all play a vital role in preparing the team for one singular goal; to win games!  Everyone understands their role in the team structure from the skilled players down to the locker room attendants.  Sports is an easy analogy, but our military also soundly achieves this same complex orchestration. In the public and private sector there is a fairly consistent need to respond to burgeoning issues and often times great changes are implemented with the expectation of success.  Plans fail for many reasons, one of the most difficult to identify involves the futility in missing the fundamental step of clearly defining job roles.

Observing large-scale change is like viewing the layers of a pyramid. It begins with a clearly established goal at the top and works its way down to the excruciating details of getting the team from point A to Z.  With large and complex teams it’s important to spend some time talking about roles and responsibilities and facing some hard facts, not everyone can be a skilled player. Change can be crowded with details and without clearly defined roles employees will do one of two things; step on one another in the process of moving forward or travel in directions which ultimately do not support the team’s objectives or desired end-state. It turns into an issue of efficiency with some folks actively working at cross purposes.  Change management can be a scary proposition. You are developing a new competency which you hope will support future growth. Without careful planning and implementation you will look up and find that you are off course. What steps can you take to maintain your true direction?

  • Identify your change team – you will need people who are flexible, visionary and not wedded to the status quo.
  • Clearly define the vision – what is this going to look like when we are done?
  • Develop a phased plan of implementation that compliments the objective – change is difficult and pressing on too quickly with too many course corrections can result in change fatigue.   At various points you will need to check your progress to ensure your course remains true, sometimes you will find that your initial assumptions just do not hold water.
  • Define the roles of your skilled players and the supporting cast – if people don’t know their part in the complex implementation the time to station will begin to increase exponentially.  In fact you may never reach your intended goal.
  • Look your middle management in the eye and tell them that success rests in their conveyance of the message –  if you can’t get support and buy-in from the line supervisors the troops will never embrace the change.  People can be eerily resistant to change and sabotage can often times be unintentional.
  • Never stop emphasizing the goal of the team, reassert your vision at every turn.

In looking at the list above many would argue that each of the points carries its own high degree of importance. I agree, but here is why I’ve singled out the definition of roles.  Once the project is underway and implementation begins its very difficult to triage why a project may not be hitting its intended mark, especially if there are lots of moving parts. It’s even more difficult when you haven’t clearly defined roles.  When people don’t understand what part they play in the end game or the role of their teammates there is a grey matter which develops; a greyness which leads to a continual inefficiency in implementation.  Because you can’t quite figure out the problem you begin to make unnecessary changes in your plan and alas you can’t seem to reach your objective.

Change is not easy and it’s even more difficult when missteps continue to lead you off course.  Not everyone is or can be the star quarterback and where would he be if the O-line didn’t do their jobs or the coach in the booth neglected to tell him the pitfalls of spinning to his right or left on any given play?  Make sure your team understands the specifics of their job roles and then make sure their doing it.

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