Blog: Role-Creep - Shifting Job Descriptions

Strategic HR

Role-Creep - Shifting Job Descriptions

Role creep is a common workplace ailment as leaders add on responsibility and incumbents accept them
Role-Creep - Shifting Job Descriptions

Role creep is a common ailment of the workplace. Leaders add on responsibility and incumbents accept them, leading to an obese unwieldy job description.

We’ve all seen it happen – Role-creep! Roles that expand over time, until they look very different from what they were originally conceived to be. Leader generated, but equally incumbent-driven, role-creep is as dangerous as it is convenient.

As a leader you have influenced role-creep when:

  • It starts with your ‘request’: “Could you please take additional charge of…”
  • It’s usually positioned as a temporary ‘fix’, or a ‘development’ exercise
  • Transferring all the responsibility, a bit of the authority but rarely, any additional compensation!

Leaders aren’t always to blame. There are always those expansionists on the team who, like colonial masters of yore, sneakily expand their influence! It’s probably a power thing to stand ahead of the peer group. A subtle suggestion or reaching out, or an open take-over – are all opportunities to demonstrate leadership qualities.

Either way, leaders need to recognize the signs and act accordingly!

It is, however, important to differentiate role-creep from a strategic combining of roles to save cost, enhance control, or spruce up the organization structure. The former is tactical – a jugaad. The latter is a planned, prepensely thought-through exercise. Hey look! Even Mr. Modi is doing it to the Government!

There is, possibly, only one advantage of permitting role-creep: convenience. But the disadvantages are many.

  1. Creates unsubstantiated power centers: If an individual gets even a little authority, be aware that it would certainly be used! This nebulous, temporary authority can cause friction and ruin the organization climate.
  2. Makes individuals believe they’re indispensible: Sure, everyone knows that no one’s indispensible! However, those who carry more than the defined responsibility, tend to feel otherwise. And leaders fan that feeling by giving these individuals visibility, praise – but still no compensation.
  3. Scuttles succession plans and aspirations: Leaders tend to let the ‘jugaad’ continue if it is working even half-way efficiently. Maybe it really is about developing a HiPo. Or, getting brownie points for showing a windfall saving in the Salaries and Benefits line. Meanwhile, people’s aspirations are stalling. Succession plans are getting delayed because no one else can pitch for the role. Until, that is, the leader terminates role creep by starting up the hiring process in a timely manner.
  4. Stress and the step-family: Irrespective of the brave face, the incumbent’s stress level invariably increases – with all its associated disorders. The forgiveness for the stretch and the additional work notwithstanding. The incumbent also starts to feel short-changed for not getting an adequate pay hike for performing more than one role. The leader is trapped because if s/he does give the hike, it would rock internal equity equation!
  5. Confuses the hiring brief: Possibly the biggest challenge role-creep poses, is to the hiring brief. Between the leader and the incumbent, the role has ballooned out of shape over time. So when the incumbent decides to leave, it becomes virtually impossible to find a replacement who can immediately hit the road running! Role-creep brings in the expensive option of having to break up the role and hire more than one person.

Sometimes, role creep may work when leaders structure it appropriately with defined timeframes, motivating rewards, clear communications and strict implementation. Yet, there’s no better prevention than the good old Job Description (JD) review. Yes, get them out, dust them and read them. Are they still valid? Surprise!

This may seem like another ‘HR item’ for leaders. It’s actually an important occasion for HR to partner with business unit leaders! To prevent the role, the team and the business from creeping into a murky chasm of workplace incertitude!

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Topics: Strategic HR, Life @ Work, #HRInsights

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