Imagine you’re the owner of a small business called Confusion Inc. Your core team includes Go-Getter Bob, who tries to do everything (and tells everyone else what they should be working on). Then there’s Allie Oops-I’m-Here, who nervously shows up to meetings that have nothing to do with her work, and Ball-Dropper Betty, who has no idea what falls in her court or who to ask for help. Every day, the team grinds through high frustration, hurt feelings and terrible inefficiency. And you’re left picking up the pieces—all because no one has given them the gift of role clarity. That’s not the kind of company culture anyone wants to build.
Role clarity is the secret to keeping your team from overstepping boundaries, focusing on the wrong areas, and unintentionally underperforming. Instead, they know what they’re supposed to do, what their specific goals are, and how their work impacts larger business goals. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
So, how can you keep the Confusion Inc. scenario from creeping into your company? Start by getting clear on role clarity. Hint: Defining Key Results Areas (KRAs) will help do that. More on that in just a minute.
What Is Role Clarity?
Role clarity means everyone on your team knows what they should work on, what’s expected of them, and how their work fits into the big picture. You provide your team a clear map of roles and responsibilities that shows each person where to go and what to do.
In sports, every team member plays a specific position to help their team win. Role clarity in business is much the same. It defines each position in your company and clearly connects those positions to your greater mission. The goal: to work better together. But that’s not all. Great teamwork is just one of a list of reasons why role clarity is important.
Role Clarity vs. Role Confusion
Role clarity makes your team more productive because it ensures each team member knows their purpose, their responsibilities and the way they add to your company’s bigger goals. Without it, you’ve got role confusion—and that leads to a whole lot of uncertainty, disorganization and blockers to success. In clarity, your team members work together and excel. And in confusion? They stumble, and progress stalls. Hint: Choose role clarity.
Why Role Clarity Is Important for Organizational Success
Let’s say you have two leaders telling a team member to focus on two different things. Or one leader who’s never clear with their team members about what work they’re responsible for. Both are a train wreck waiting to happen. No one can know if they’re winning or losing if they don’t know who to listen to or what to spend their time on.
Role clarity brings focus, builds momentum, clears blockers—and encourages that teamwork we just talked about. Three cheers for clear roles! And here’s a bonus: When roles are defined and people are free to bring their best, they engage in their work and often stay with their company longer.1 Here’s more on the benefits of role clarity:
- Focus: Role clarity helps your team members avoid confusion, conflicts and inefficiencies. Everyone knows what they’re supposed to do and can engage in the right work without stepping on top of each other.
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- Momentum: Role clarity protects your team members from stirring up activity just for the sake of motion—aka work without purpose. Instead of losing valuable time spinning in circles (or completely in the wrong direction), your team moves faster and more productively to get important stuff done.
- Cleared blockers: Role clarity makes it easier to get the answers and approvals your team members need and confidence to do their jobs without the threat of shifting priorities (and the task switching that comes with it). When roles are clear, it’s also easier to know who should be in what meetings, and it minimizes time wasters so everyone’s running at full speed toward your business’s desired future.
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- Teamwork: It makes the dream work, right? And when everyone knows how their specific role and those of their teammates add to the company mission, they collaborate more and compete less. The dream really does work when the whole company is focused on “we” instead of “me”!
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- Retention: Together, all these benefits of role clarity improve job satisfaction and lower burnout. That keeps your team members excited about their work—and sticking around to help move your mission forward.
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There’s no denying role clarity is an important way to keep your business running smoothly and your team members engaged. So now for the bigger question: How do you create role clarity? That’s where Key Results Areas come in.
What Are Key Results Areas?
Key Results Areas spell out what results every team member is responsible for—what they primarily do in their normal, everyday work. It’s a clear road map for what winning looks like in each role. KRAs also provide role clarity by documenting and defining who’s doing what and how it all fits together so your team can work together to achieve organizational success.
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Typically, your team members write their own KRA documents and then refine them with their leader. That allows your people to own how they define their responsibilities but leaves room for you to guide them. As your team members develop their KRAs, give them freedom to make them unique to how they’re wired. But also keep them on course toward your business goals.
When their work feels personal, your team members own it. And they see how the part they play—their purpose—adds value to your mission. That’s a big deal! Just a 10% improvement in a team member’s connection with their company’s mission and purpose decreases turnover by 8.1% and raises profit by 4.4%.2 (Now there’s a taste of winning!)
What’s the Difference Between KRAs and Job Descriptions?
Some leaders mistake job descriptions for KRAs. Don’t do that. Here’s how to tell them apart:
Job descriptions include requirements, detailed roles and responsibilities, and the skills someone needs to nail the role.
KRAs define a team member’s key areas of responsibility and highlight the actions they’ll have to take to own their role.
Job descriptions are used in job postings to attract a candidate.
KRAs are living documents used throughout the year to help team members focus on their key objectives.
Job descriptions don’t require ownership. They just check a box of work that needs to be done and credentials the person in the role should have.
KRAs require ownership. They show what winning looks like, and the team member is free to decide how they’ll ensure the win.
Job description example: “Sweep the floor.”
KRA example: “This role is responsible for keeping the shop floor clean.” It’s a subtle difference, but keeping a floor clean—however you choose to do that best—takes ownership.
How to Create a Key Results Areas Document
Just like you need to put your budget on paper, on purpose as a guardrail for reaching your financial goals, your team members need to write out their KRAs as guardrails for keeping their focus on the main parts of their role. Getting started can feel hard (yes, writer’s block is real). So we’ve divided the KRA document into easy-to-conquer sections below.
- Name and title: That’s a stress-free start, right? You’ll want each team member to list their name and role at the top of the page.
- Summary sentence of what the role does: Just under name and title, they’ll add a line or two that sums up the overarching purpose of what they do. For example, a sales leader KRA summary sentence might be: “I am responsible for motivating my sales team and keeping them on track with our sales goals.”
- Two to four Key Results Areas: Next, each person should think about what their role focuses on most and explain their key areas of responsibility in just a few words. For example: “Maximize relationships with clients, grow direct reports, maintain a personal book of business, manage business financials, or establish a marketing strategy.”
- One sentence after each Key Results Area that shows what winning looks like: The next question they’ll tackle is: “What does winning look like?” They’ll write out how they’ll know they’re succeeding. If one of their Key Results Areas is to maintain a personal book of business, winning might look like this: “We are consistently meeting personal revenue and crushing our goals.” See how everything is starting to get clear as they work through more details?
- Three to five bullets below each key results statement that show what it will take to make that area successful: Finally, this section will include simple, clear, action-oriented statements. Bullet points related to meeting personal revenue and crushing goals could be: “Maintain high call activity, nurture and pursue strategic partnerships, and have a consistently high close rate.”
Just like that, the first draft of a KRA document is born. You’ll want to talk through each team member’s KRA—what needs to be added, deleted or clarified. (It’ll probably take a few rounds to nail it.) This is also a great opportunity to bond with your team and make them feel seen. Learn what motivates them, talk a little about their path forward, and share how their roles connect to the company mission and goals. Your time together is a win for everyone!
Once the KRA document is refined and finalized, you and the team member need to sign and date it. This shows that the team member understands their responsibilities and is taking ownership of them. Your signature acknowledges that you agree with how their role supports the goals of your business unit.
3 Tips to Get the Most Out of KRAs
As you review KRAs with your team, remember these guidelines to make them as effective as possible:
- A KRA document should fit on one sheet of paper. It’s not a five-year vision or five-page growth path. It’s a simple and memorable flyover of the main responsibilities and results you want a team member to own.
- Make KRAs realistic. Not idealistic. KRAs should represent what one person can realistically do in a week without having to work overtime. You hired human beings. Leave room for them to be human. Sometimes that means splitting up a role or assigning certain tasks to others.
- Use KRAs regularly. These aren’t set-it-and-forget-it documents. They’re made to use every few months in one-on-ones to help you avoid role creep. (That’s where a role gets too big or off track because no one remembers what they agreed was most important about it.) Taking a look at KRAs regularly also helps reveal when you need to make updates to keep up with changes in the company, the role or the person in the role.
What’s Next: Make Chaos a Thing of the Past
As a business leader, you have plenty on your plate already. Managing chaos shouldn’t be one more thing. You’ve also got a business to grow, for heaven’s sake! And when your team has role clarity, they can charge forward with you—in the same direction—to help you grow it.
Well-defined roles and responsibilities matter at every stage of business, but they’re especially important at the Pathfinder stage. This is when you’ve finally pushed past feeling like a Treadmill Operator and are really ready to build momentum.
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If you’re not sure which stage you’re in, check out our EntreLeadership Stages of Business and free business assessment. You can also learn more about role clarity and how to use KRAs in your business by checking out practical videos and business tools available through EntreLeadership Elite.