Only 50 percent of people are clear about what’s expected of them at work. Awkward.

No one understands expectations at work

I got that stat from here, which is in turn from here. This doesn’t really surprise me. Let me give you an example from a job I had a couple of years ago. The marketing team here had this basic rundown:

  • 3-4 people doing e-mail marketing
  • 1-2 doing internal newsletters and blogging
  • 3-4 doing publications and direct mail
  • 1-2 doing social media
  • 1-2 designers

Here was the thing, though: 2 of the 4 people doing e-mail marketing would regularly say they didn’t have 40 hours/week of stuff to do, as would 1 of the “internal newsletters” and 1 of the “social media.” That’s 4 people not really working 40/week, but getting paid 40/week. That’s ineffective and bad for the bottom line. That is stuff we should care about. 

Lemme give you another example. My friend is a big deal (kind of a big deal) in the general digital marketing world. He consults for some huge brands. I won’t name the brand in this case so that I don’t toss anyone under a train, but let’s say it’s a huge retailer, right? He went and set them up with “a social media control center” to respond to customer concerns, etc, etc. Ultimately, 12 people staffed this center. We’re talking “social media” people, “content” people, “design” people, etc.

A few months later, my friend goes back and they’re all doing a status report on the social media control center. The in-house leader says, “Well, we respond to about eight complaints per day!” The COO of the company is in the meeting, kinda half-checked out because it’s social and social doesn’t move the big money, but on that point he looks up and his head is on a goddamn swivel.

“There are 12 people on staff here? (pause) And we’re only doing 8 things per day?”

Do the math on that and basically some people in that “control center” are writing about 1/3rd of a tweet per day. That’s awful.

To me, this is where the rubber meets the road on these “purpose” and “engagement” issues. I’m not all about going in and firing people, because getting a job can be damn near impossible — but here’s the issue, right? When you try to get “purpose” for employees by actually talking about concepts like “purpose” and “engagement” and “culture,” that’s fluffy as hell. Companies, and especially senior leadership of companies, don’t understand that. Those are squishy words that don’t easily fit into Excel, PowerPoint, or some e-mail bullet list. And they’re very hard to define.

That’s where the whole idea of “engagement” and “purpose” fails, IMHO — the vocabulary and semantics around it. Oh, and also, it’s a scientific fact that no one really knows how to set goals for other people.

But in cases like the above — where you have dedicated research proving that 1 out of every 2 people in a general office environment isn’t sure of their role — well, then we can shift the discussion to a money one. People do understand that. Headcount is a fucking scourge; it encourages people to race into a situation (“Gotta backfill this! Time is money!”) without actually putting any strategy or context behind it. Then “thought leaders” write articles about “hiring with intention,” and I literally want to smash my laptop into a billion tiny pieces.

Look, like I said … I don’t want to condone firing people. But if you have the ability to make headcount decisions, this is what you need to do: go around and actually talk to people in a department. Learn what they do, where they think they need help, and where they think maybe there’s a bit of overflow. The rank-and-file are in it every day. They know what’s what and they know the stress points, etc.

Too often, we think “Oh, this competitor over here appears to have a social team of five, so that’s what I should do!” OK. Maybe it is. But you could also get 2-3 good people and have a social team of 2, right? That’s also doable. But you need to actually stop and think about what the fuck you’re doing and what the overall goal of your org is. If it’s to “print money for the top tier,” then so be it. That’s fine — and in fact, if that’s the case, you should be thinking about headcount even more clearly and strategically.

My broader point here is that we frame a lot of this around “purpose.” Your job should have purpose, yes, but that’s not really anywhere in any contract you signed — and most managers don’t look at it like that either. We should frame the discussion around “the bottom line.” If you want 2 of 2 instead of 1 of 2 people to understand their expectations at work, well … maybe we need to shift a few things around, right?

Ted Bauer

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