7 Questions – How do you create clarity in your job and those of your employees?

The importance of a good employee-manager relationship:

The manager-employee relationships are vital for organisational effectiveness and efficiency.

Q1 Why is what I do important? Q2 What am I accountable for? Q3 How is my performance measured? Q4 How am I performing? Q5 What am I doing to improve my performance? Q6 What support do I need from my manager to improve my performance? Q7 What is in it for me, if I do great, good, average or below expectations?

Why is this relevant and important?

Despite it being basic I have experienced over and again that it does not take place and often it is only performed half-heartedly and this gives rise to several challenges.

Firstly, that the employee leaves the company due to a poor relationship with the immediate manager. Several studies show that the most often quoted reason for leaving a position is the relationship with the immediate manager.

Secondly, the performance or output from the employee is not optimal compared to what it should be.

Thirdly, a poor or less optimally performing employee has a less than optimal effect on the people and processes in the company.

Fourth, you can probably add to the list yourself, but the above mentioned three should be adequate cause for action.

The above outcome is bad for the company as well as the employee, hence worthwhile to ensure that employees and managers jointly have a good understanding of the job and their respective responsibilities this regard

The below outline is compiled of what I have picked up over the years from inspiring people, leaders I have come across and especially some bright HR people in Maersk Line and I have tried to apply the principles in my own work life, both for myself as well as for the people in my responsibility and I hope you find some inspiration either in your role as employee or as a leader.

Please note this is all about structure, not the interpersonal relationship on how we relate and communicate. Without respect and earned trust all structures come to naught, but this structure creates a culture of alignment and communication at the employee-manager level.

The work and job relationship description consists of seven (7) questions surrounding job purpose, responsibilities, measurements, feedback and managing expectations and outcome.

 Question 1 – Why is what I do important?

Always start with the WHY! Clarity of purpose is critical for motivation and can be used for guidance, when in doubt how to act.

The most important place to start is to ask and answer WHY is the job important to yourself as an employee. Someone may argue that the job is for the company’s sake and not for the employee’s sake, but I think the feeling of meaning, of purpose in one’s job is important for all people and most organisations desire employees with motivation. And frankly, getting up early every morning, commute to work, spend a large portion of your life working; it better be worth your while.

So, why is your job important to you? Is it just the money? Probably not, only you know. Is it a sense of belonging, an opportunity to learn new skills and develop as a person, opportunity for promotion and further development, the creation of good relations, meeting exciting people? Only you know – or do you? For many people it is necessary and a source of joy to belong to a group of people and we must not underestimate the importance of the social relationships in our teams.

Why is your job important for the company? Do you ensure the customers are more than satisfied? Or do you ensure that the people servicing the customers can do this well? You can also ask “What happens if I do a bad job?”, some people, maybe your nearest team-members, rely on you to do a good job or even a great job.

As leaders we work on ensuring the company vision, mission and strategy are clear and understood by all employees and that is very important. But, sometimes we forget to operational this at an employee level, and that may be cause for confusion, uncertainty or even discontent, especially if the employee feels there are discrepancies between the overall vision or strategy and his/her job.

This question is not the job description, but the answer could form the the introduction to the job description.

Question 2 – What am I accountable for?

 This question covers the activities that encompasses the job, the required output and the necessary output, perhaps some quality requirements and timeliness. Processes or systems, which the employee is responsible for, and also important relations inside the company or outside.

Matters that will often be described in the job description if such is available.

This is probably the first a new employee is informed about, since it covers what the employee is doing on a daily basis (or weekly, or monthly, or whatever is described), however, even if an employee has worked in the job for a longer time, it might still be worthwhile to revisit this once in a while.

 Generally a job description can include items such as:

  • Responsibilities
  • Tasks (Example: Prepare monthly reports)
  • Specific tasks (Example: Prepare monthly report for submission by 3rd working day of the month, and as a minimum include information on XXX and YYY, by using information from System ZZZ)
  • Hierarchical relationships (Example: This position reports to Director of Finance)
  • Requirements (The position requires specific knowledge about Danish Accounting standards and IFRS regulations)

It is important that the employee is fully aware of what his/her responsibilities are and at the same time it is important that the job description does not become a straitjacket, but has room for initiative and flexibility in line with changing requirements in the job and the organisation.

When an employee has served a year in a new position, the initial job description is likely no longer complete in relation to what the employee is actually doing and as time goes by the original job description becomes outdated, and as such it makes sense to revisit the job description from time to time.

Question 3 – How is my performance measured?

Or put in another way: “How do I know when I am doing a good job?”.

Do I have some measurable deliveries? For instance some KPIs? Something with timeliness or accuracy. Are there means to measure the quality of my work?

What am I measured on – Quality of my work – Efficiency – Innovation – Adherence to company values – Helpfulness/Being a team-player?

Am I responsible for some large projects to be delivered, by a certain date, within a specific budget or otherwise described.

Can my deliverables be described in relatively short sentences, which describe a future desired state?

How can I ‘objectively’ identify the level of my performance. Inside myself I know my effort level, but how do I know if the hard work results in the right performance?

Some organisations set targets for the following year, however, since the environment and the work tends to change over time, similar to the job description, as mentioned above, then sometimes the targets loose relevance or the targets are fulfilled already mid year, perhaps the projects were easier to finalize, and as such it is important that new targets are set.

Question 4 – How am I performing?

It is one thing to know the responsibilities and the required activities, as well as the expected output, the performance. It is another thing to assess how things are going. Am I performing? And how well am I performing?

The employee has an opinion, but so does the manager, and alignment facilitates a good dialogue.

Firstly, the employee must ensure to form his/her own understanding on the level of performance. Firstly by considering how the performance is measured and whether he/she meets the targets.

Secondly, it is also important to get feedback from the manager to assess the extent of alignment of the employee’s opinion and the manager’s opinion.

One thing is the personal performance, but also in the larger scheme of things, “are we delivering as per the overall purpose?“. For instance the employee delivers well on all personal targets, but overall the department is not meeting its targets, for instance within customer satisfaction, then that needs to be addressed jointly in the team and with the manager. Maybe the targets, or even the tasks, do not properly contribute towards the overall goal, and this must be addressed.

Sometimes there will be a difference in opinion. The employee thinks that he/she has made a stellar performance, whilst the manager will regard it as average. That has got to do with differing expectations or lack of clarity in either responsibilities or performance measurement or reviews. An on going dialogue is the most effective way to manage expectations and create clarity.

Do you get regular and clear feed-back from your manager? And how? Regular feedback is critically important for most employees in order to ensure to manage expectations and create alignment on targets, activities and behaviours.

Question 5 – What am I doing to improve my performance?

We can all get better at what we are doing, and we should strive to improve – for our own sake. So what am I doing to improve? In some cases it is a matter of working harder, going the extra mile so to speak. However, in most cases it is a matter of working smarter, not harder.

So, how do I reflect upon my job, my tasks and activities? Can I do it differently, more effectively? Do I need new training? Do we need to change the process, can we get the person who makes my input to make some changes and thereby make my job better? Can I do some changes in my output which is improving the work of the people who uses my work?

You can argue that any employee has two jobs – the current job plus the job of continuously improving the current job. In some organisations that is already included in the job description and measurements.

Question 6 – What support do I need from my manager to improve my performance?

One of the manager’s most important responsibilities is to ensure that the employees can perform and continuously improve their jobs. This requires that the employee has the right competencies i.e. the right skill-set and training to perform the job. But also the right environment, tools and support. Example: If there are challenges in getting the right input from another department, and the employee has tried in vain, then the manager must step in and take action and help to get this sorted.

Sometimes it is easy to help employees to improve performance, say an accounting employee spends a lot of time reconciling, then two computer screens may be a big facilitator in improving performance and perhaps job satisfaction. But it can also be more complex and requiring cross-functional process changes. For instance if an AP employee spends time on locating the purchase responsible on incoming supplier invoices, the solution may be to get the purchasing functions to inform suppliers to put purchaser’s name or department on the invoice.

Question 7 – What is in it for me, if I do great, good, average or below expectations?

The answer to this question is linked to the very first question i.e. Why is what I do important (for me)?

A pay-check is one answer and continued employment could also be one. Some jobs have bonus and incentives assigned depending on job performance, and some companies base salary increments on past performance, so money is one lever that companies use to try and secure best possible performance, although a number of studies show that there is no link between incentive and performance, but that discussion is not the purpose of the article.

Clearly, personal fulfilment from the feeling of doing a good job is important for most employees, but the positive recognition from management and peers is also a motivator for most people.

There may also be opportunities for promotion either into another position or by getting more interesting and challenging tasks and activities in the current position. Both may come with company supported education and courses, which may improve future employ ability and improved CV.

The above primarily goes for above average and great performances. If on the other hand the performance is below expectations and below average, then both management and employee need to do some soul searching.

First consider why the employee is performing poorly. Assuming all the preceding questions have been properly asked and answered i.e. purpose is clear, responsibilities are clear and performance requirements are clear and aligned, then have a conversation about why the performance is poor. Is it lack of skills, poor cooperation in the team, bad attitude on behalf of the employee or something else. On the basis of this it is the manager’s responsibility to put actions in motion to improve the situation, as also clarified in a previous question. However, sometimes it ends up with letting the employee leave the position.

Conclusion

For the employee it is important that the “Why this job is important for me?” is fulfilled. If it is not, then nobody gains and it is a lose-lose situation, because an unsatisfied employee is bad for business. So even if all 6 preceding questions have been asked and answered positively, and the manager has maintained a good feedback loop there may still be dissatisfaction and sometimes it is because the employee changes opinion in terms of what is important, but it can also be matters beyond the manager’s sphere of influence, so the above 7 questions do not solve all things, but it is a good start.

From a managerial perspective I venture that the 7 questions form a strong framework for focused employee-manager conversations, and it will work whether you have weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly or annual one-to-one conversations, appraisals, performance reviews or whichever label is used in your organisation. The more frequent the conversation, the more emphasis on questions surrounding the actual performance, but do not forget to bring the other questions into play now and again. The conversations shall consider the employee’s seniority, maturity and competence into consideration, as well as attitude, as is the point of situational leadership.

Whatever you decide as manager, make sure to schedule regular meetings and stick to it, even if there is very little to review, you can always benefit from getting to know your employees a little bit better, so use the framework. You do not want to be in a situation where you only have a conversation with your employees, when there are problems.

Further Reflection – Is this all there is to good people management?

Is this all there is to it? As said above it is not. This is just one tool in establishing a structure towards an effective dialogue in the employee-manager relationship, and a model for analysis of your work-life or the work-life of your employees, which can create a foundation to build on. Other steps deal with creating strong and trusting teams and of improving one’s own leadership towards transformational leadership.

Several thinkers claim, that in order for people to be truly happy at work, three fundamentals must be achieved for the individual – Purpose, Hope and Friendships. This speaks to purpose of company and organisation and individual and the opportunity to improve on the individual’s situation and the social aspects, the sense of belonging.

As an employee what is your take on the 7 questions? Can you answer these for yourself and does it make sense for you? Is there anything you will change from now on?

As a manager what is your take on the 7 questions? Have you ensured that your employees have clarity of purpose in their roles, the employees understand how you evaluate their performance and do you perform regular feedback to the employees? Is there anything you will change as a result? Or do you subscribe to a different way of managing the important employee-manager relationship?