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Creating Strategy and Role Clarity

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Role clarity and real-world outcomes

How to create strategy & role clarity for workforce planning

Successful workforce planning is having a clearly defined strategy for the organisation, creating role clarity for employees, and developing a governance structure to ensure accountability.

Workforce planning is all about understanding what an organisation is trying to achieve, this is how you clarify strategy. Once a strategy has been adopted an organisation can then go on to creating outcome-based job definitions.

What is an outcome-based job definition?

Read on to learn more.

Why you need to use real-world outcomes in your job descriptions

Watch the video to understand the importance of role clarity in workforce planning, and why you need to start defining jobs in terms of real-world outcomes.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 4 – The SACS Model of Workforce Planning

And watch the previous video here:

Part 2 – Workforce Planning: A Definition

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

How to achieve clarity about strategy

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number three in our six part video series on workforce planning for the new normal.

These are the topics that we’ve dealt with so far, what is the new normal, workforce considerations, what is workforce planning?

And in this video will be talking about strategy and role clarity to give you some really clear ideas about how to achieve clarity about strategy at an organisational level, but also role clarity, what makes people clear about their own jobs.

Now, this is a really crucial question, because when people talk to me about workforce planning, my first question is workforce planning for what?

In other words, we need to know what we are trying to achieve organisationally and right down to the level of specific jobs to understand the sorts of capabilities, the sorts of backgrounds the sorts of experience that we’re going to need in our workforce to be able to deliver those outcomes.

Many organisations lack clarity in this respect.

In subsequent videos, we’ll be talking about things like the SACS model of workforce planning and leading you through some really specific examples about how to lead workforce planning and also what type of person copes with challenging times, which is a really important aspect, because workforce planning is so much about change management and about managing change effectively.

What are you trying to achieve?

The value that you get out of workforce planning is heavily determined by the clarity of your strategy.

Workforce planning for what is all about, what are we trying to achieve and what workforce will we need to be able to achieve that?

Many organisations think that they have strategy, but what they have is vision or tactics.

What you find is that workforce planning really puts the asset on strategy.

It clarifies what an organisation is about, because the nature of workforce planning causes people to enter into questions like, what are we really here to achieve? And therefore, what kind of workforce we’re going to need to be able to achieve that.

If you can’t forecast the businesses that you are likely to be in in the future, then you’re certainly going to start able to build a workforce plan that will service the needs of the organisation.

Virtually all of the workforce planning projects that SACS has worked on in our history today has caused us to help the organisation that we’re working with to clarify what their strategy is or perhaps to operationalize what the strategy is.

What you often find is that organisations have a high level conceptual statement about what they’re about, and then they’ll have work plans, which are really specific at the individual work group level, but it’s really a common complaint about organisations that they don’t have good linkage between that high level stuff, conceptual stuff, and what does that mean for me?

And that’s why many organisations run into a challenge where their employees don’t understand how they support the corporate objectives.

Real World Outcomes (RWO)

Clarity, in fact, comes from outcomes. And this diagram here (refer to video) shows you a kind of a cascade of the strategic intent of the outcomes of an organisation, the outcomes of a group or a division, the outcomes of a branch, which is part of a group or a division, and then individual outcomes.

Now you’ll see that we use this acronym, RWO, real-world outcomes. We invented that. Real-world outcomes is the concept of, what outcomes do we need to achieve that actually makes the world a better place?

Now, those outcomes can be internal outcomes like profit. They can be external outcomes like customer satisfaction, but if you want people to have clarity, what we know from the world of psychology is that clarity comes from an understanding of the outcomes that I need to achieve, and that’s a very different thing from the way that most jobs are defined in the current world of HR right now, because many organisations have what’s called task-based job definitions.

Task-based vs outcome-based job definitions

So, to do this job, you need to do this, this, this, this, and this, tasks.

So to use an example, if I need to write a report, a task-based definition of writing a report would be, I’ve got to speak to people about what this subject matter is, I’ve got to sit at the computer and do research, I’ve got to type, I’ve got to then consult people by showing them draughts, and those sorts of things. That would be a task-based perception of writing a report.

An outcome-based perspective on writing a report would be to say, the report needs to have happy recipients.

In other words, they need to be satisfied with the quality of the report, and this is how we’re going to measure it.

It also might be that the report will change something in the real world.

It will influence people to do something differently.

It might change policy or it might change an individual’s viewpoint.

It might cause somebody to support us to do something, in effect to become an advocate for us.

So, outcomes tend to give a very different perspective from tasks.

Psychology research says that outcomes are far better at creating clarity than tasks are.

And so this is a really important point. In fact, there’s good, strong research that task-based job definitions don’t create very good quality at all.

There’s been research where organisations that have outcome-based job definitions are far better in creating clarity than task-based job definitions, but some organisations that have had task-based job definitions, classic list of duties or responsibilities, they’ve been compared with organisations that have no job definitions.

And, in fact, there really isn’t a great deal of superiority from a task-based job definition to no job definition at all where you just understand the job by virtue of your interaction with leaders, let’s say.

So that’s an opportunity, because what we are really saying is that an organisation, if it wants to achieve clarity, should define what it needs to achieve in terms of these real-world outcomes.

Real-world outcomes can be very specific and should be a maximum of probably five or seven with maybe at the organisational level up to 20 metrics.

Now, this is crucial and very few organisations have this.

You can imagine if you are trying to build a workforce plan, how can you build a workforce plan if you don’t know what this organisation is about? I mean, for instance, if you’re an organisation that’s seeking growth, then that might require quite a different skill set than one that’s seeking the highest margins possible.

If you’re a not for profit, and you don’t care about how big a profit you make, but you certainly may not want to make a loss.

That can be an extremely different thing from an organisation which is seeking to grow at all costs.

Different skill sets are necessary for that. That’s why this is important. And that’s why when we measure the levels of role clarity, this is at the individual level here.

When you measure levels of role clarity in many employees in organisations across Australia and New Zealand, you find that they don’t have very high levels of role clarity, because it’s all been based on a list of tasks rather than a list of outcomes.

Sponsoring initiative

Now, another benefit of outcome-based job definition is that it sponsors initiative in the employee.

If I tell you, if you happen to work for me, and I say, you must do these things, then that’s an extremely different thing from you must achieve these outcomes, because saying that you must achieve these outcomes tends to sponsor a spirit of initiative, in other words do what’s necessary to achieve these outcomes.

Whereas if I ask you to undertake a series of tasks, what that tends to do is it sponsors an atmosphere of obedience or of compliance, which is really not what organisations are after these days.

Higher levels of engagement

The new normal is going to require us to have levels of initiative.

So defining jobs in terms of outcomes is far more effective in achieving that.

By the way, research also so indicates that people who have their jobs defined in terms of outcomes tend to have higher levels of morale and engagement.

And that psychological energy is so crucial to making people change ready, but also bringing out productivity in them.

This is what an outcome-based job definition looks like at the individual job level, five to seven defined and measurable outcomes for each job.

You might wonder why five to seven?

What kind of goals work?

It’s from the research of two guys by the name of Locke and Latham, research psychologists, and these research psychologists, Locke and Latham, undertook in excess of 30 years of research into what kinds of goals work for human beings.

Now, the concept of outcome-based job definition draws on this idea that outcomes define as goals can be very effective for guiding people to pursue what is necessary in their jobs, but what Locke and Latham were able to discover is that by having too many goals, that’s in fact as bad as having no goals at all. So too many goals when they are piled on top of a person, simply lose their relevance.

So it seems that for most people, what Locke and Latham were able to discover is five to seven of these goals seem to be what’s necessary to create a high level of clarity. Imagine you come to work, you know your organisation stands for these five things, and here is how it’s going to be measured.

My team stands for these five things, and here is how it’s going to be measured. My job stands for these five things or seven things, and here’s how we’re going to measure them.

That’s what creates clarity. And that’s what many organisations lack.

So if you are going down the path of workforce planning, we would encourage you to reflect on this first and foremost and make sure that you do have clarity about what the organisation is seeking to achieve.


Now strategy into accountability, this creates a governance structure at all levels.

So if you’ve got a set of outcomes, which are measurable at the organisational level, well, there’s no question about whether the organisation has a achieved its objectives.

If that applies at a divisional level, at a branch level, and ultimately at an individual level, it gives you an accountability framework, which can be used to tie the objectives of the organisation from its highest level strategic objectives down through its work plans to the goals and responsibilities of individual staff members.

And that creates greater psychological clarity for staff.

And we encourage people to avoid myriad KPIs.

I must say going back to task-based job definition, one of the things that I’ve seen is I saw a job definition once that was 12 pages. And when I counted up the responsibilities of that job, it was four or 500.

Now, obviously that doesn’t create clarity at all.

A small number of outcomes that a job needs to achieve is a great way of creating clarity for the employee. And not only that, it has the wonderful advantage that they can remember them.

Clarity comes from less, not more.

Scenario example – XYZ Corporation

So our recommendations for XYZ Corporation, so this is an organisation that I introduced in the last video, which is to say this is a company that needs to undertake some change and is thinking of workforce planning in order to achieve this.

We would recommend that they undertake an outcomes assessment based on the new strategy that they’ve adopted, that they would identify key outcomes at an organisational division team and personal levels and build an accountability framework to develop all of that.

And we would suggest that this is done with very active engagement from the staff, and they will also need to probably concurrently undertake workforce planning to ensure that the workforce necessary to deliver the strategy’s in place.

So the concept of clarifying your strategy is to allow you to say, what employees do we need to deliver this strategy? And that will help to build a much more effective workforce plan.

The next video in the sequence will be video number four, and that will be all about the SACS model of workforce planning where we define what workforce planning is and give you some really practical examples of how workforce planning can be used.

We’ll also use some war stories from our own history of consulting and how workforce planning has been implemented to really make the whole concept come alive for you and be as practical as possible. Click on the link to join me for the next video.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about workforce planning for the new normal:

Part 4 – The SACS Model of Workforce Planning

And watch the previous video here:

Part 2 – Workforce Planning: A Definition

And if you’d like some help with Workforce planning for your organisation, contact us about our SACS Model of Workforce Planning.

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