Remote Work Best Practices Part 7 – Role Clarity & Outcomes
Role clarity is one of the most important factors for success in remote working.
We cover the best way to define jobs, and why task-based definitions fall short.
We also discuss “real world outcomes” and how they can help staff stay focused and working to achieve the overall business goals.
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The importance of role clarity for remote workers
Hi Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number seven in our eight video sequence on remote leadership, leadership of people who are working from home.
This is a psychological perspective on how to lead people who are working remotely as effectively as possible and what kinds of skills are necessary for both leaders and staff to do this?
Well, this particular one is about role clarity for remote workers. Role clarity for remote workers is absolutely crucial. And what it’s also crucial is role clarity for the leaders of remote workers.
I think that one of the main reasons that people have resisted people working from home for years is the fact that they’re concerned about whether the person will actually work. Will they actually do their job?
I think that’s a failure of job definition.
And one of the main reasons is that most organisations in the world define successful performance by what people do. That’s what we call task-based job definition.
In other words, a good job is where you do this and this and this and this.
A better kind of job definition
But personally, I don’t employ people to do tasks. I employ people to achieve outcomes, and I think we all do that. But sometimes we don’t think in those terms.
Now, if you define the outcomes of a job accurately and well and you have a means of measuring those outcomes, what does it matter if the person is sitting beside you or in Guatemala?
In other words, if we can measure outcomes effectively, we will feel much more confident that this employee is working effectively from home.
But even if the person is not working from home, outcome-based job definition is far more successful than task-based job definition.
Using organisation goals to create clarity
Here’s a diagram to display this (refer to the video).
You know, people get confused about what is this organisation about? And organisations often have detailed descriptions of their strategy, their mission, their vision, their values. And if you read these documents, they’re often incredibly vague.
How about defining an organisation’s purpose by the outcomes that it needs to achieve?
Is it profit? Okay, let’s say that. And let’s say how much profit we think we need to achieve? Is it growth? Let’s say that.
Is it customer satisfaction? Let’s say that. And let’s define that.
Is it something to do with, let’s say you’re a public sector entity, is it about greenhouse gas abatement? Well, let’s define how much greenhouse gas should be abated.
Many organisations complain that their employees don’t plug into their purpose. But what’s the purpose, really? Even from a workforce planning point of view, when we undertake workforce planning, my question is always workforce planning for what?
And the “what” should be the outcomes that the organisation needs to achieve.
Why real-world outcomes work better
Defining success in terms of outcomes is knowing what the outcomes are that the organisation needs to achieve, and then the outcomes of the groups or the departments or the divisions, whatever you call them in your organisation, then the branches or the business units, and then the individuals and you see, we invented this term RWOs – real-world outcomes.
Now, why did we call them real-world outcomes?
Firstly, every job exists to make the real world a better place.
And it might be an internal world like internal customer satisfaction, or it might be an external world like something like external customer satisfaction or producing a certain number of things or a certain quality of things.
Every role and every business unit should be able to be defined in terms of outcomes. We invented the term real-world outcomes to distance this thinking from things like KPIs, of which there are typically myriad in most organisations.
Clarity comes from simplicity and two psychologists by the name of Locke and Latham, conducted decades, three plus decades, of research into a thing called goal theory, which says, what is it that people can take meaning from in terms of goals?
We believe that if you construct your purpose in an organisation in terms of goals, what are the real world outcomes, the way the world is going to be a better place once we’ve done our job, then you can create clarity.
The ideal number of goals for any role
As long as you don’t have too many. Five to seven is what Locke and Latham discovered to be the sweet spot.
So most people, if you give them five meaningful goals, even if they’re stretch goals, they will achieve them. They will try to achieve them.
If you give them 5 for that matter, 40 KPIs, they’re much less likely to bother about that. I mean, frankly, the reason five to seven works is that most human brains can cope with about five to nine chunks of information at any one time and keep that information front of mind.
Now, if you’ve got the average human being, well, aim for five because that’s safe. What Locke and Latham discovered is that as you add goals to people, if they’re trying to achieve a certain task, as you add goals to them, their performance will increase to the point where it gets to about five goals.
After that, if you add a 6th goal, a certain part of the population acts as though they have no goals at all. And seven and eight, as you can imagine, more people act in that way.
So clarity is not about tasks. Clarity is about what we need to achieve.
Examples of outcome-based goals
So let me give you an example. I need to write a report.
A task-based job definition of writing a report will be, I’ve got to sit at the computer and type, I’ve got to speak to people, so I consult with stakeholders. I’ve got to do research, I’ve got to do web investigations to find information. They’re all tasks.
The outcomes of the report might be I give it to these stakeholders and they show that they’re satisfied by the following measure. It may be that the report achieves some change in the real world, like it influences somebody to do something.
Or maybe it changes a policy in an organisation or government or something like that. Those are the outcomes.
Clarity comes from outcomes, not tasks.
That provides an opportunity to have an outcome-based job definition, which says here are five to seven defined and measurable outcomes for each job.
And then you can identify the skills necessary to deliver the outcomes, the experience or qualifications necessary and the attributes, the style, behaviours approach, et cetera.
Outcomes lead to shared clarity and confidence
So this is an extremely simple competency model, but it works.
You can imagine in a situation where for each job you think this job has the following outcomes. These outcomes can be measured with A-B-C-D-E-F-G. The employee knows this. The leader of the employee knows this.
What’s the problem about working from home? I mean, if the job clearly can’t be done entirely from home, the outcomes analysis and the competency analysis will demonstrate that.
If you’ve got a shared perception between the employer and the employee about what the outcomes are of the job and the competencies necessary to deliver those outcomes, then what I’ve found is that many organisations are simply more confident to allow people to work from home or flexibly or whatever because they’re measuring what really counts – the outcomes rather than the tasks.
So there’s some key thoughts about how to create role clarity for a remote workers.
The final video in this sequence is all about how to keep engagement and wellbeing high.
We know that not everybody is suited to working remotely. And video number four in the sequence is the question of what makes someone suited to remote work.
But whether people are suited or not, there is a question of leadership about how to ensure that levels of engagement and wellbeing are as high as possible.
Join us to find out a little bit more about this important topic:
Or watch the previous video about remote working:
And if you’d like some help assessing whether your current employees or your future hires are suited to remote work, contact us for a free trial of our Remote Worker Test.