Defining the Hat: How to Create Roles & Responsibilities
How many hats are your team members wearing? Too many? Ones that are ill-shapen? Or simply the wrong size?
In other words, what jobs do you have your team members doing, and have you set up clearly defined responsibilities for the roles they fulfill?
In my last post, I discussed why it’s so important to have defined roles and responsibilities. Long story short (although, I do recommend you go back and read the long story 😊), providing clear role definitions does three very big things:
- It tells your team what decisions they can make and grants them permission to perform well. When they know exactly what falls under their purview, it gives them the confidence to make decisions on their own and invest in the outcomes.
- It improves organizational rhythm and prevents decision backlogs. Without needing perpetual oversight and approval, teams can find their own flow and move projects along quickly and efficiently.
- It allows for “process review.” If you’ve defined the roles well, then performance reviews become about what’s effective and ineffective about the process the role fits into.
Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, teams have less ownership and greater need for clarity from the top, which leads to increased decision and task bottle-necking for leadership, lower employee investment, and depressed growth and growth opportunity.
Now for the important part: how to create transparent descriptions—how to choose and define the right hat.
Defining the hat—and tailoring it
There are a few different ways role definitions can be created. The first and most traditional route is defining the hat with a departmental lens: Head of Finance, Head of Marketing, Head of Operations, Head of Customer Success, and so on. This method draws clear circles around a specific department, allowing the employee to run things clearly and seamlessly within what’s known to comprise that department. Like any method, it has its pros and cons.
Pros: It’s very easy to find people who have fit those roles before at other organizations. The titles are well within the lexicon of organizational structures most people are familiar with. It also becomes easier to hire for experience.
Cons: Traditionally well-defined, departmental roles, if determined and hired at early stages of the company, may not allow the flexibility that leaders need teams to have as they pursue new opportunities. The individual you’ve hired may have an entirely unique set of strengths that may not be tapped if their departmental role has been defined too well, allowing no wiggle room or opportunities to flex other muscles.
A different, perhaps less conventional approach is to tailor the hat and role definition to the employee’s strengths. I’m a big proponent of this approach because it allows you to evolve and modify a role in a way that’s a better fit for that individual—specifically for early-stage companies and their employees. By hiring generalists, flexible hustlers, go-getters, and problem solvers, growing, early-stage companies can do a wider range of things. Then, once a company matures and processes become more defined, you can see which traditional departmental roles make more sense. It’s about capturing the whole picture of the individual’s capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses and then being able to make full use of those strengths in defining their tasks and responsibilities, while also knowing which tasks and responsibilities fall into their blind spots and should be given to other team members instead.
For instance, if you have someone who thinks very creatively and likes to solve open-ended questions, do they really fit the organization best as a graphic designer or developer? Sure, the business may need their hard skill sets in those areas, but you may also be missing opportunities to utilize their higher-level thinking to benefit the organization on a deeper level. Conversely, if you have a more organized individual who does exceptionally well with implementing routines and carrying out plans, they may intuitively make a good project manager, but should you instead tap into their skillset to help the company on a broader organizational level?
How do you determine strengths?
There are a variety of strengths assessments and tools that companies and individuals use to tease out what unique gifts every team member brings to the table, but the one I like to use is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths.
Doing the CliftonStrengths exercises with everyone on the team, or at a minimum with co-founders and top leadership, really helps show each team member how their other team members’ strengths differ from their own, which further helps the whole team gain a better understanding of how they can best function and collaborate together, utilizing each other’s strengths to do so.
Take, for example, two co-founders, Sonja and Carlos. The CliftonStrengths exercises helped determine the following strengths for the two of them:
Clearly, from these lists, we can see that Sonja is going to be better at thinking about the big picture and working on a macro level, so it would make sense for Sonja to take on an outward-facing, brand-building role, and for Carlos, whose strengths lie in the details and processes, to take on an operational role.
What gives people energy and what doesn’t
Beyond strengths, it’s important to note that not every aspect of the work will fulfill you, no matter what level of the company you’re at—founder or department head or individual contributor. There will be tasks within your jurisdiction that give you energy and some that drain you. That’s okay and to be expected.
But when we are in love with our work, it puts us in a flow state. We take ownership, pay closer attention to details, and produce better results. The more we operate in a flow state, the more we come alive and the more we invest into our business. And when teams operate in flow states together, the result feels like magic: entire teams on the same page, working harmoniously towards common objectives. To get everyone closer to flow state, it can be good to share amongst the team which tasks and responsibilities give each team member energy and which don’t and see if there are some tasks that can be swapped to get everyone operating with greater energy.
So, back to our founders: To gauge how their likes and dislikes align, Carlos and Sonja can create an energy quadrant document (as below) where they can bring their preferences into the mix and analyze the best workflow to create the most energy between them.
The most effective energy quadrant documents typically include items from the following categories:
- Business outcomes: Grow top-line, build product, acquire users, etc.
- Recurring operations: Report monthly financials, recruit new hires, close sales pipeline, and so on.
- Individual, one-time tasks or projects: Find new office space, develop draft company values, or prepare the investor report.
After Carlos and Sonja have placed all their tasks and responsibilities into the applicable quadrants, they can find which of those tasks and responsibilities could be given to the other founder based on who gets energy from doing them, which ones they can share and do together, and which ones they can delegate to other members of the team.
All of these categories and the responsibilities within them are suited for the energy-giving or energy-draining lens when determining which outcomes, operations, and projects best fit individuals’ capabilities and strengths. They also tend to work best in a couple of common organizational scenarios:
- Small, early-stage teams with multiple co-founders wearing lots of “hats” (generalists!) and juggling an overwhelming workload who are looking to optimize team performance
- Founders who got into the business because of their passion and still want to be connected to that passion (e.g. interfacing with clients or customers directly, building the product themselves, etc.) but need to hand off some other responsibilities that come with being a founder in order to do so
The problems arise when we give individuals new responsibilities unconsciously, simply based on immediate needs, without taking the time to reflect on that choice and determine whether the decision can be made more intentionally.
Creating role descriptions
As I discussed in my earlier post, when you define them well and accounted for individual strengths and blind spots, it’s crucial to give everyone specific descriptions of their roles, which include:
- Overall summary of the position and why the position matters—”What’s the point?”
- The value-driven attributes of the right candidate for the role—“Who am I?”
- The big-picture responsibilities the role has—”What is the team counting on me to do in this role?”
- Any detailed, day-to-day tasks that need specificity—“What do I need to accomplish each day?”.
How they go about their oversight and decision-making should be up to them, as long as they align their management with the company’s values and mission.
Hats can change, so can defining them
Remember, defining roles and reevaluating how we create them—and how we identify and utilize our team’s strengths—is an evolving process. As we entrepreneurs pursue new opportunities, we still need to be able to do random, one-off things that allow us to be able to gain leverage for ourselves so that we can think ahead and capture new opportunities for the company that might be on the horizon. Giving our teams the capacity to focus on outcomes and make bigger decisions frees us up to be able to take such opportunities knowing that those team members can take care of affairs on the home front, so we can look upward and outward for the company at large.