Half of people don’t know what is expected of them at work

black hands shadow control a businessman actionA recent Gallup survey on clarity of expectations and goals in over 550 organizations found that only half of employees strongly agree that they understand what is expected of them at work.

The managers of these people were equally unclear about expectations.

From our work in many of the world’s most complex organizations we are not surprised.

It is a simple exercise as we ask participants in our matrix management, virtual teams and global working workshops to write down their personal key goals together with those of their organization and department. Very few of them are able to do this.

On an engagement with managers at vice president level, withinin a global bank looking specifically at clarity we identified that 100 leaders were following nearly 20 different strategies – and only one of them was correct according to their executive committee.

The most popular answer was a strategy that had been set by a leader who was an excellent communicator in the past, he left four years ago.

This is partly an issue of poor communication of goals. Senior leaders consistently underestimate how difficult it is to get comprehension and understanding of goals. Sending out a PowerPoint presentation isn’t enough. People need the time to discuss and internalize the goals and locate them within their personal change story.

It’s also partly about changes to the nature of clarity in organizations. In a multi-dimensional organization where people may have multiple bosses reporting lines and be part of multiple virtual teams the individual may be the only person who has full clarity on their goal and roles. If they seek clarity from just one of their reporting lines they will probably be talking to someone with only part of the picture.

Another Gallup study “State of the American Manager” noted that only around 12% of employees strongly agree that their manager helps them set work priorities, and performance goals.

Now maybe that’s not a bad thing, philosophically shouldn’t the individual be the best person to set their own goals and to know their own role. Unfortunately the realist in me tells me that most people do not do this and do need some guidance and framework.

In a complex organization we should make things clear where we can. However, we also need to understand that organizations are now more ambiguous. Trade-offs, dilemmas and conflicts are more common when we have multiple reporting lines and priorities. We need to give the individuals at the point of intersection of this complexity the skills, the information and the autonomy to make decisions about their goals and priorities.

If we don’t we are setting ourselves up for regular escalation for decisions and prioritization and this can have big implications for the level of control and autonomy in your organization.

What you think? Is a lack of clarity a bad thing to be solved with clearer job descriptions and cascaded goals, or is it the reality of the future enabling people to take more ownership and autonomy in their goals and role?.

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