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3 Strategies to Fight Role Ambiguity

employee engagement internal communication people manager strategy people ops problems
3 Strategies to Fight Role Ambiguity - LeAnne Lagasse

Welcome to People Ops Problems with LeAnne Lagasse, a bi-weekly video series designed to help Business and People/Culture Leaders improve employee engagement, retention, and communication with their employees. Sign up now to get it in your inbox.

Role ambiguity is a villain that lurks in every organization – yes, even yours! – and it goes beyond a poorly-crafted job description.


Although that’s certainly a part of it, role ambiguity is what happens when employees don’t know what is expected of them or how they fit into the bigger picture of their organization. 🤔

It’s the opposite of role clarity, and wherever role clarity is lacking, you can be sure to find anxiety, disengagement, conflict, and eventually burnout among your employees. That’s why it’s so crucial for leaders to establish clear roles and expectations from the get-go.

I’ll admit… setting clear roles and expectations might not seem like the most exciting thing we can do as leaders, but it could very well be the most foundational step to driving employee retention and engagement and keeping our people from floundering in ambiguity.

Is it really that serious? Let’s see what the research says. ⬇️

Right now, according to the Gallup Organization, only 50 percent of employees know what is expected of them at work. And for those working in a scientific, technical, or computer-related industry, that number actually drops to 30 percent.

So, how can you slay the villain of role ambiguity and learn to recognize its presence in the first place? Check out these 3 strategies below or watch the video above.

But First, A Red Flag. 🚩

  • One surefire way to spot role ambiguity is to listen for “turf war” talk among your team members: “So-and-so is really stepping out of his lane. Why was she included in that meeting and I wasn’t? I thought I was taking the lead on this.”
  • When you hear phrases like these, it’s your first red flag, as a leader, that role ambiguity is rampant in your organization, and it’s time to start weeding it out.

3 Quick Strategies For Reducing Role Ambiguity

  • Mine For Ambiguity With Great Questions. Asking an employee if they’re clear on their role feels like a drill and places the burden on their shoulders. Instead, you could ask, “How can I set more concrete expectations for you?” By framing it this way, you’re allowing the truth to float to the surface and communicating that there’s always room for improvement on your end. (Whenever I coach leaders to use this strategy, they’re ALWAYS shocked by the answers they get.)
  • Create Rules of Engagement. Rules of engagement are helpful because they communicate HOW you are going to communicate. Everyone on your team needs to agree on the rules of engagement, and it all starts with a conversation. This could be anything from deciding how you are going to communicate on Slack to how you are going to handle conflict as a team. With these norms established, you’ll see a drop in role ambiguity, and as an added bonus, start to recognize breakdowns in reporting structures, too.
  • Conduct Job Analyses. Another great strategy for reducing role ambiguity is to conduct job analyses and pay close attention to how accurate and concrete your job descriptions are. If your team members do not understand how each position contributes to the organization’s biggest goals, then your infrastructure – as far as roles go – is likely to crumble, especially if you are in a season of scaling. Here’s a resource that I think you’ll find incredibly helpful for conducting job analyses.

The bottom line is this – role clarity is the most important thing we can give to our employees. If we want to move the needle on employee experience, recognizing and reducing role ambiguity is the very best place to start.

Hey, thanks for being here and for watching/reading. My goal is to consistently create content that's engaging, applicable, and inspires you to continue learning and growing as a leader. If you have ideas for future content or any questions at all, please shoot me an email at: [email protected].

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