A: Well, it's actually simpler when you can keep the bits and pieces clear.
It's important to know what the minimum requirements of a job are – the outcomes of that position for which one is hired and paid. But we all quickly realize that there is much more to a job than that. We end up doing all kinds of things that weren't covered in the hiring interview or the position description.
Q: Ha! Tell me about it. And so?
A: Well, we need to meet our job description requirements to get paid. And we need to fulfill many roles to get the job done and be successful. Some seem to naturally be part of the job and others are opportunities to try something new, based on our manager's requests or our own initiative. We often talk about wearing a variety of different hats.
The job description requirements are normally word-smithed to be clear and exact; the roles are much more informal and based on tribal knowledge and experience.
For example: from a job description perspective, “directing” is more precise than “leading” for a management job. Leaders (as a job) determine which forest to manage, Managers direct their staff to which trees need to be harvested.
Q: That seems to be a scope or big picture vs. smaller picture question.
And also, as our teamwork sessions keep showing, leadership is not restricted to a particular job and can be done by anyone. So while Leaders need to demonstrate leadership regularly, as part of their job, anyone can, and should, demonstrate leadership when they have the best idea.
Q: Well at least we're getting back to the leadership question. But why are you concerned about job descriptions vs. roles?
A: The job description concept is simply a way to describe the essentials required in a job – the minimum set of activities for a given role. Our summary for a Manager is:
- directing, and
Q: But surely some, or all, of these activities are done by the Leaders – the senior management or whoever you mean.
A: Yes they do in their role as Managers of others. It's when we don't recognize the roles people are playing – which hat they have on – that we get these things muddled up.
That is why it is best to think of the role each person is playing at a given moment to recognize what activities they should be doing to fulfill that role well.
Q: And roles are different than jobs?
A: For sure. Your job is a description of what you are hired to do – the results expected – and the skills and knowledge required to get the results. To get that job done you may play many roles including manager executing management activities (even with your manager), and leading when you have the best idea in your team or workgroup.
One way to look at it is:
- you have to do your job to get paid;
- the various roles you can play to do your job - get it done faster, smarter, with higher quality, with more value, etc. - make you a more valuable employee.
A: Sure. For small work transactions you may just describe it as exercising some management skills or activities, but for more extended time periods – for example, when your manager is away on vacation – you would say you are filling that role on their behalf.
Q: Got it; but again why are we fussing with all this definitions and categorization stuff?
A: Because, in my opinion, based on how people write about this and discuss it, we easily get messed up and off track. We think we understand and then realize it was all about something else.
For example: when the manager of a group asks you to “lead the group” what does that really mean?
Often it is assumed to mean “be in charge”, “provide direction”, “organize the work”, etc.
Q: Yeah; that seems OK to me.
A: So now you are being asked to “lead the group”, is that a new job? Are you now the group's Supervisor? Team Lead? Manager?. In other words is that a job assignment or a role?
And what responsibility, accountability, authority do you have?
Q: I don't know; I just get to come in late and put my feet up! Just kidding.
More likely I get to deal with all the problems.
A: Right. You would usually end up with more questions in your mind than answers. And not about the work itself, but about the people stuff. What are your boundaries? How directive can you be? What do you do to lead?
Q: Hey; didn't we agree already that anyone on the team should be able to lead when they have the best idea?
So what does your manager want when he tells you to “lead the group”?
Q: Beats me.
A: Me too! When we get together again let's ask him. :)