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Clarify Management Roles and Expectations

Originally published: 05.01.14 by Lisë Stewart

Clarify Management Roles and Expectations

Three steps to eliminate role confusion during transition times 

As a business evolves and grows, the roles and expectations of managers, including owners, begins to shift. In many cases this simply happens by default, with little or no discussion. Problems can arise when expectations differ and when people don’t perform in a way consistent with expectations. 

I recently visited a company where “Dad” had promised to begin to step away from his previous management position so that “Junior” could take over and be seen by others in the company as a stronger leader. This wasn’t happening, however, as Dad was still acting the same way that he always did — solving problems and being the go-to guy for making decisions. Needless to say, Junior was frustrated. 

This sometimes occurs because managers can’t always envision their new role clearly and don’t understand the shift they need to make. Instead, they revert to their same old behaviors. 

When I am working with my clients on the development of an effective succession plan, I like to help them to fully understand how to get from point A to point B — where they are today to where they want to

be in the future. I know asking anyone to make this shift immediately is a lot to handle, as it’s often too drastic a change. 

In most cases, you can describe your current role and have some ideas about what your future role might look like, but it’s the interim stage that often causes confusion and miscommunication. Instead of an immediate shift, plan a gradual shift so you can get used to making minor changes in your behavior, slowly building toward the development of a whole new role. 

Develop an outline of your current role, including the results you’re responsible for and who reports to you. Discuss this with your management team and use this as an opportunity to gain greater clarity regarding your position and theirs. Simply having this conversation can clear up a lot of gray areas. 

Next, work with your team to develop your future state. Once you’ve fully transitioned into your new role (even if this is full-on retirement), what will it look like? If you’re transitioning into another type of active role, such as taking over a key leadership position or acting as a consultant or board member, will you have the same responsibilities as the current position holder or do you see the role changing? Will you be expected to produce the same type of results that have been produced in the past or will these expectations change according to your company’s strategic plan? 

Finally, work with your team to develop the interim state. In most organizations there’s a transition period that can feel a little shaky, and it often breeds confusion and conflict. This is a good opportunity to break open this conversation and talk about how you’ll begin to change your role, how quickly you’ll be taking on new tasks and what tasks you’ll give up as others transition into your old role. 

You may also want to talk about how you’ll mentor or coach others, and how you’ll empower those who will take over some of your previous responsibilities. 

As is often the case, the most important aspect of managing expectations is to have real conversations. Talk about the issues in a way that takes emotion out of the discussion. Look at this as an opportunity to clearly articulate the future, and the important steps to get there. Once you have an agreement as to what the role will be, you can list the key tasks and decisions to be made. 

 Current State 

FIRST, create an outline of what you are currently doing — often a good opportunity to clarify your current role and manage expectations more effectively. 

Interim State 

You will fill this section in LAST — after you have clarified your current and future roles with your management team members. 

Future State 

You will fill this section out SECOND — with the help of the person that is currently in that role — or, in the case of your own exit from the business, according to your vision of the future. 


Lisë Stewart is founder and director of Galliard Group, a training and consulting firm specializing in family-owned and closely-held businesses. She is a nationally recognized author and speaker who draws on her 25+ years of experience to share practical advice for ensuring sustainability of family businesses.

Contact Lisë at lstewart@galliardgroup.com


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