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Rock & Role: Why it’s better to work in flexible roles rather than fixed positions – Part 1

Role trumps position – this assumption has proven itself at Tandemploy. Although we use job descriptions when searching for new employees, we already evaluate which strengths and competencies the new team member brings along during the onboarding process and where these can be useful outside the defined position. In this way, we raise the awareness from the beginning that no one is stuck within one job forever and signal the following: We want to get to know you – with all your strengths, interests, and wishes regarding your work with us. Over time, this often results in completely new team constellations that help us move forward, but which we did not have in mind at all when we advertised the position.

Beyond the recruiting process, the need for new or changing roles arises in the day to day business as well. Which roles are needed essentially results from the following three questions:

  1. What needs to be done to achieve our goal?
  2. What do we need to be able to work well together?
  3. What increases motivation, creativity and fun at work?

The answers to these questions lead to what we want and should do. This can be directly related to a product, for instance, “ Improve user experience”, or to office culture, like “Healthier eating at work”. The next step is to look at WHO is best suited to take on the individual assignments and areas of responsibility and is keen on slipping into the newly defined roles of “UX Guru” and “Chief Foodie”. Depending on the level of competence, interest, and capacity, an employee may take on one or even both roles. It may however be necessary to hand over other tasks to coworkers to avoid an insurmountable workload. This way, two newly created roles bring a lot of movement into a team and everyone always has the chance to try new things and get involved outside their core tasks. Thanks to this agile workflow, we are always able to react to new situations, needs and conditions with the collective competence of our team.

With roles against outdated structures

Role trumps position – even for large corporations, which have become less flexible with increasing size, the introduction of roles can be a real transformation catalyst. Entrenched  power structures that prevent competent colleagues from making quick decisions are consistently broken down by thinking and acting in roles. By doing so, an organization can change from a cumbersome colossus to an agile cruiser that stays on course even in stormy weather, to use a few maritime metaphors.

Let’s have a closer look at five irrefutable advantages of flexible roles over fixed positions.

1. Positions promote the old, roles promote the new.

Job descriptions contain a clearly defined skills profile. Whoever fulfills most of these requirements gets the job. If organizations rigidly adhere to this profile without looking at what the employee is able and willing to do, valuable abilities will simply lie idle for years and years. To this day, many organizations do not know their employees’ full potential besides what they were originally hired for. The tendering of roles brings these hidden skills and talents to light. Roles involve small, often temporary assignments and areas of responsibility for which employees can sign up if they match their skills and interests. The entry hurdle is usually low, but the effect is all the greater. After all, working outside of established routines and with new colleagues is a creativity booster and increases the probability of finding clever solutions to new challenges.

2. Roles strengthen strengths.

Rarely do employees have all the skills required by a job advertisement. Sometimes the job profile also contains tasks that do not correspond at all with what the candidate is good at or wants to do. The consequence: under-developed competencies must be (strenuously) acquired. The focus on weaknesses in turn prevents the existing strengths from fully developing. Concentrating on roles counteracts this, because the areas of responsibility and duties of a role are narrower, sometimes containing only one task or a clearly defined area of responsibility. This enables employees to consciously choose a role based on their strengths and to shine in it.

3. Roles promote the need for self-efficacy and belonging.

No one is obligated to take on a new role, but everyone can if they want to. And mostly on their own initiative and above all intrinsically motivated. Roles offer the ideal framework for taking on responsibility immediately and achieving a strong impact within the organization through personal action, completely independent of the formal position in the hierarchy. Along the way, they permanently strengthen the employees’ development, and with it the proficiency level of the entire organization. In addition to short-term gigs, short-term assignments and projects, working in roles is the best way to learn “on the job” and develop within the company, rather than looking for new challenges in the external job market.

4. Roles show what needs to be done.

Positions often remain unchanged for a long time. New tasks that cannot be assigned to an existing job profile might never get done or get shifted back and forth between departments. On the other hand, new task areas that should be added because the circumstances call for them, aren’t tackled because there aren’t any corresponding positions for them. Important impulses are missed out on, the organization ends up stewing in its juices. With roles, it is significantly different, as they are orientated towards what is needed NOW. The actual workload and the required skills can be easily described by roles, which can then be filled within a short time and without a complex application process. In digital talent marketplaces, algorithms ensure that roles and suitable employees are matched within seconds. How many roles someone wants to fill is up to that individual. At the same time, several people can share a role if the workload is too high. The result is an agile workflow that continuously adapts to new circumstances.

5. Roles facilitate crisis management.

Jobs are hardly ever questioned until a crisis comes along and suddenly thousands are cut. A disaster for both the company and the employees affected. At the same time, in times of crisis, completely new competencies (and new roles) become necessary, which many employees on the “termination list” might even have, without the organization being aware of it. The better a company knows its employees, the less they are forced to lay people off in difficult times. Instead, they can redefine and reallocate areas of responsibility and fill the corresponding roles with employees whose previous activities are no longer in such high demand due to the changed circumstances. Employees who are accustomed to working in changing roles can react confidently, take responsibility, and be proactive even in uncertain times, because that is what they do all the time. This way, they not only stay with the organization but also contribute to leading the company out of the crisis.

In part 2 of our mini-series “Rock & Role” we show you a Tandemploy Best Practice. Our colleague Christoph is currently taking on a completely new role in the product team. In an interview he tells us how he manages this role next to his role as Digital Marketing Manager, how it changes his daily work routine, and how he deals with role conflicts.

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