How role ambiguity can make success at work hard to define

Reverse-engineer your job description.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Welcome to our regular HR advice column, Ask a Resourceful Human. Here to answer all of your burning questions is Massella Dukuly, the head of workplace strategy and innovation at Charter, a media services company that aims to transform the workplace. Dukuly has trained over 10,000 leaders at startups and global enterprises, including Squarespace and the New York Times. Sign up for Charter’s free salary transparency playbook here.

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My company is hiring for completely new roles. How can we standardize the interview process and objectively evaluate candidates when we’re not yet sure what success will look like?

Even if you’re not clear on how the role will evolve, it’s important to understand at least a few goals that you’re hoping this person will accomplish. This will allow you to reverse-engineer and determine specific skills and experiences required for the job so you can come up with standardized success criteria.

Let’s break it down. Say you’re hiring your very first “director of hybrid work happiness” (f this isn’t a real thing, it should be).

It might feel impossible for you to spell out what success looks like as you interview candidates because the world of work is evolving every day. The good news? Because you’re hiring, you do know, at least in the near future, what you’d like your new director of hybrid work happiness to accomplish.

Step 1: Identify two or three short- to mid-term goals.

  • Maintain a consistent pulse on employee sentiment of hybrid strategy.
  • Implement and maintain initiatives to support employee engagement in a hybrid environment.
  • Partner with cross-functional team leaders to standardize 1:1s.

These are excellent goals, but you can’t stop there. Without a clear path to understanding how these goals might be achieved (through skills and experiences), we’re simply hoping for the best.

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Step 2: Reverse-engineer goals to necessary skills/experiences. Let’s look at the third goal from above: Partner with cross-functional team leaders to standardize 1:1s.

Ask yourself, “What skills or experiences does successful cross-functional partnership require?”

There may be several answers, but we’ll work with these for now:

  • Collaborative communication with stakeholders
  • Ability to manage change

Step 3: Determine your success criteria

Thinking about your company and general best practices, what would it mean to be successful in collaborative communication? What would it mean to effectively manage change?

One example of success criteria is: Ability to manage change

  • Shares the vision of the change with key stakeholders
  • Consults with stakeholders to understand their perspectives/hesitations
  • Remains open to feedback as a means to adapt change rollout

Once you identify your success criteria, you can formulate questions that allow your candidates to share their experiences. I’m a big fan of behavioral interviewing in these situations, as it allows you to assess what someone has done in the past (a huge predictor of what they’ll do in the future).

To do this, you might ask, “Can you share about a time you successfully managed a change initiative?” Ideally, the candidate is able to share the context of the situation, what they did to lead the change, and the end result of their actions. Success will be determined by how well the candidate matches the success criteria that you’ve previously identified.

Lastly, be clear with the candidate that the role will evolve in time and that your team will work with them to define objectives and success criteria as it does.—MD

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HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

News built to help HR pros grow their impact & improve the future of work.