If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an impossible workload of urgent tasks, you might feel like it’s time to find a new job! Or it could just be that you need greater clarity to identify where you really need to focus your efforts.
When you’re unclear about your role and responsibilities, it’s easy to be distracted by lower priority work. Or it may be that you’re being burdened with tasks that aren’t really aligned with your role. If so, it’s time to speak up. Perhaps you’re sharing tasks with colleagues and you may be unclear of who is ultimately accountable for what.
Where there’s confusion, jobs fall through the cracks, deadlines are skipped and you can end up bickering over whose fault it is, or what you should do next. Confusion can also lead to a full inbox, or days packed with meetings, never giving you the opportunity to actually get some work done. Whatever your concern, if uncertainty is at the base of it, it’s time to get some answers.
If you’re not sure how to approach your boss, how to be heard and what to say, we’re here to help. This article is going to give you some questions you can reflect on and later address with your boss to get that clarity you need.
It’s hard asking for clarity, and that’s why not many people do it. They’d rather battle on blindly than risk looking silly. You have a job description after all. But what if that’s just not enough or you’ve outgrown it? There are so many reasons why clarity of your role may be lacking and the best way to address it is that dreaded conversation with your boss. But what do you say?
The first step before speaking with your boss is to do your homework. If you’re prepared, you’re less likely to feel nervous and more likely to find the right words and have a productive conversation which provides solutions.
Reflect on these questions:
This is a key question and first stop when you’re not sure which tasks you should be prioritizing. Look at all the tasks you have on your plate right now and for each one, ask yourself why it’s important, what purpose is it achieving? If you don’t feel that it’s important or well-aligned with your role or team objectives - then highlight this task as a specific example to raise with your boss.
Perhaps you’ve misunderstood how the tasks allocated to you correlate with your role. Alternatively, there may have been an oversight. For whatever reason, you may have been assigned tasks that don’t align with your role or the team’s objectives and if this is the case, your boss needs to resolve it.
In many cases, the reason you may be feeling unclear on tasks is that you’re working on an area of shared responsibility. Where you share responsibility on tasks with other team members, try to discern what elements of the task you are accountable for. Which tasks or projects are you ultimately responsible for at the end of the day? Do you and your colleagues have a common understanding of your areas of responsibility or are there blurry lines? Do you feel your boss has been clear on what they expect from each of you? Do you and your colleagues disagree and do you need your boss to adjudicate on matters?
If you’re unsure of what you’re doing and why, it’s likely you may be in doubt as to whether your work is making any difference. Are you ‘good enough’? Are you collaborating effectively with your colleagues and really getting things done? It’s important to reflect honestly on how you feel you’re performing. What factors do you take into account in appraising your performance? It might be that your colleagues or boss are measuring success by other parameters so it’s important to distinguish for yourself what determines your performance, before consulting your boss.
Any position entails two jobs. One is the day to day tasks and projects you’re involved in and another is the task of improving the way you do things. Specifically, consider how lack of clarity is holding you back and note down which questions you need answers to in order to address specific tasks.
Once you have considered these questions, you can go to your boss with your reflections and ask for further elucidation.
This question relates to the overall purpose and strategy of your organization and your role within that system. It’s about how well your job description is working in practice since your job description should be written to move one or more goals forward. Your boss should be able to provide insight into how your role and your work fit into the big scheme of things.
The tasks landing on your desk should directly relate to your company’s goals and if they don’t, it’s something your boss needs to fix. You need to understand not only what a task accomplishes, but whether it’s a priority and why. If you do have elements to your workload that are extraneous, this is the opportunity to make your boss aware, lighten your load, and find a solution of projects and priorities correctly aligned with your role, company purpose, and strategy.
Talking accountability should generate a productive discussion with your boss which clears up any uncertainty you have about who is responsible for what on your team. It’s here you should raise any concerns you have about areas of co-responsibility with other team members. While shared responsibilities can make a lot of practical sense, it can, unfortunately, mean doubling up efforts, where someone might spend time working on a task the other person has already covered. Or things can get missed when you think someone else was doing it! It might be that there needs to be clearer communication between team members or that your boss needs to more clearly delineate accountability so that where there are shared tasks, there is ultimately one person responsible, or at least a discrete element of the task that rests on your shoulders. This will allow you greater discretion, agency, and authority over areas for which you are accountable.
Double-check with your boss what decisions he/she expects you to make and in the areas you don’t hold authority, what the procedure is for referring to others.
As far as your performance goes, you may have measurable targets, deliverables, KPIs, or OKRs both you and your boss can clearly assess your performance on. However, there may be some uncertainty around other factors such as the quality of work delivered, your degree of innovation, effective collaboration, and fulfillment of company values.
Your boss may be able to clarify aspects of your role and accountability that you weren’t really considering. Or perhaps you just don’t place as much weight on certain elements as your boss does. This kind of discussion can be really illuminating in getting you out of your own head and helping you better understand your performance in the context of your team and organization as a whole. Your boss should be able to contextualize your performance in terms of how well overall the organization is delivering on its purpose and whether targets are being met across the board.
A good way to round off the discussion with your boss is to share your reflections on how you could improve your performance and how the clarity you have gleaned from your discussion will impact you going forward. Hopefully, your boss has also gained greater clarity through your discussion on how they can better support you and that they may need to do some reorganization or reconsideration of job descriptions and accountability to create greater clarity across the team.
Asking for clarity is not easy. It demands courage but is important not only for your job performance but for managers to ascertain how effective their messages and organizational structures are. If you are not clear on your role or expectations on any given project, it’s likely that others are feeling the same, they’re just not as brave as you to tackle the issue. However you formulate your specific concerns, a discussion with your boss should be centered around the key proposition of what are you doing and why. All positions and projects falling thereunder should be tied to the overall objectives of the team, and ultimately, the organization. Clarity is about aligning everything you are doing with an overarching purpose. This will not only keep you focused, make it easy to prioritize tasks and justify your time, but is also a more rewarding and fun way to work.