Talent Management: Role Ambiguity is a Road to Trouble


Today’s post is about what happens when organizations, in their efforts to save working capital, create role ambiguity for manager roles. This a story of unintended consequences. This post is inspired by an article in 6 July, 2011 National Post titled: When do managers punch the clock?” by Howard Levitt page FP10.

Levitt’s article deals with the issue of managers successfully claiming overtime when the organizations’ position is managers don’t get overtime and the overtime work is onerous and results in doing considerable non-managerial work (example of a manager chef spending 55% of his time as a cook). The individual was successful in getting the Ontario labour Relations Board to award him for this excessive additional work.

Levitt identifies five actions that organizations can take if they want to avoid such experiences for themselves:

  1. Maintain own records of how your managers are working additional hours and taking on supplemental non-managerial duties.
  2. Monitor the managers’ work regarding doing non-managerial work. Ensure it is irregular and not taking up considerable time.
  3. Don’t be trapped by titles. The title “manager” or “supervisor” does not protect you from dealing with overtime issues.
  4. Realistically cost staff reductions. The unintended second level consequences of such actions need to be considered. These include how the work is shifted (versus abandoned or reduced) onto managerial roles.
  5. Clearly label bonuses intended to compensate for the additional workloads as “compensation for overtime”.

An additional consequence I have observed is where the organization has its non-managerial workforce is unionized, the consequence can be the loss of the position as an exempt one. Unions are always sensitive to protecting their certification domains. So when they see a manager (exempt position) do regular and significant amounts of normally unionized workforce work they can petition their Provincial Labour Relations Board to have the exempt role included into the bargaining unit.

From the perspective of talent management and this BLOG, readers will recognize the above scenarios are examples where organizations unwittingly blur the role parameters of a position through cost containment or reduction efforts. Shifting work from one role onto another is the clear act of redefining the “recipient” role. Just recognizing that this is what we are doing should be a “red flag” trigger on what are the ramifications. Ramifications may include:

  • All of the issues that Levitt’s article speak to.
  • What happens to the performance expectations of the original role. Can the person in the role be expected to discharge their original performance goals? If not then what are the secondary and tertiary consequences of that?
  • Are we putting the exempt status of the role at risk?
  • Are we exposing ourselves to missing customer expectations?
  • etc.

The above list is why I really appreciate the understated nature of Levitt’s second last point in his list above.

Role performance expectations and subsequent delivery are always contextual. Expectations are always determined in the context of surrounding roles. Delivery is always achieved in the context of adjacent supporting roles. Cutting costs without thinking about this means you are not only unwitting exposing yourselves to additional cost ramifications to the business (Levitt’s point) but also qualitative performance issues too.

Talent Management executives are expected to assist executives make the agonizingly tough decisions in a way that minimizes likely unintended consequences. If we don’t do this (for whatever reason) we are contributing to a likely second (and third?) round of agonizingly tough decisions as the consequential messes of the first round become evident. These subsequent costs can even out weight any initial benefits from the initial decision.

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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
This entry was posted in Decison Making, Risk & Uncertainty, Talent Manangement. Bookmark the permalink.

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