Roles Vs. Responsibilities: What’s The Difference?

Hannah - Trainual

Hannah Clack

November 24, 2021

Let’s face it – when you run a small business, you need employees to be flexible and get things done. Regardless of the role or responsibilities they have on paper. 

But the day-to-day functions of your team members need to be clarified before a massive fire needs to be put out. Not as a reactive measure of desperation. Insert roles and responsibilities.

Why do you need roles and responsibilities?

Only half of employees experience role clarity in the workplace. In other words, half of your team, tackling their jobs today, don’t really know what they’re being held accountable for on a day-to-day basis. They’re just winging it.

And while small business teams are used to juggling hats, employees need to know what they’re being held responsible for (and how those responsibilities affect the company’s biggest goals).  

Schitts Creek GIF - Moira, What exactly is required of me?

Roles and responsibilities should be more than just a guessing game. They should be well-defined, thoughtful, and a guide for must-dos. If they are, they’ll keep the business running smoothly. 

Why? Because they prevent turnover, create happier team members, and help your team get the job done. 

Per Gallup, when workers are engaged and confident in what they own, the company experiences 25-59% less turnover.

In fact, 75% of employees with well-defined roles are satisfied with their jobs, compared to the US national average of 65% satisfaction. And their work performance is 25% higher than those without clear roles.

When you document your business info (the lowdown on your company, policies, and processes), you are building a business playbook for your team. Having a playbook is essential to effectively delegate the day-to-day tasks to your team, giving you the ability to focus on business growth.

And defining roles and responsibilities is definitely one part of the playbook building process that’s important to nail. Otherwise, you’ll end up with headaches, frustrated employees, and often, subpar work.

What are roles?

Roles are the positions filled by your team members. Think job titles like customer support manager, product consultant, or engineering intern. 

You need to have defined roles across your whole team. Especially early on when you and your teammates wear multiple hats. For example, if one team member is in charge of managing social media, PR, and content management, they have three roles.

If you don’t create strong role definitions, it can create confusion and frustration for your employees over time. And you don’t want to leave your team members’ roles open to interpretation. 

Because if you do, you’ll feel like you’re a director in a play where you didn’t hand out parts. So, everyone assumes they’re the lead.  

This can result in less doing and more finger-pointing. After all, the last person to willingly wear another hat is your already busy employee. 

The Office GIF - finger pointing

Once you’ve defined the roles within your company, you can outline the responsibilities that align with each role. And say “hello” to accountability!

What are responsibilities?

Responsibilities are the day-to-day tasks and functions of each role in your company. Keeping responsibilities deliberate, formal, and up to date allows you and your team to track what each team member owns.

That way, multiple people aren’t wasting time completing the same task. And at the same time, every task is accounted for so nothing slips through the cracks.

The most fundamental connection between the people in your business and the business itself isn’t their title, their interests, their contact info, or their direct reports. It’s what they actually do – their responsibilities.

~ Trainual CEO Chris Ronzio, The Business Playbook

And if someone doesn’t know what’s expected of them, they’re not likely to stay for long. In fact, a 2018 LinkedIn survey showed that a majority of professionals feel that the most frustrating quality in a manager is setting unclear expectations. 

What’s worse is that lack of clear expectation setting by a manager is one of the reasons 36% of employees actually quit their job.

How do responsibilities relate to roles?

Responsibilities are often directly tied to roles. After all, day-to-day tasks have a lot to do with someone’s position in the company. 

For example, a person with a sales role might be in charge of hosting product demonstrations and answering prospect phone calls. On the other hand, an HR rep would be responsible for things like interviewing candidates and building out a DEI policy

Sometimes, a team member will have some one-off responsibilities that don’t directly tie to their role. These could be tasks that you don’t yet have a dedicated position for, such as planning company retreats or watering the office plants.

Benefits of setting roles and responsibilities

The good news is that getting roles and responsibilities defined and documented can positively impact your company in a number of ways. There are many reasons why it’s worth taking the time to outline each team member’s roles and responsibilities, including:

  • Identifing your company’s purpose
  • Nurturing workplace relationships
  • Saving time and money
  • Defining employee growth paths
  • Increasing productivity

1. Solidify your company’s purpose

Well-defined roles and responsibilities help each employee look past the day-to-day tasks and see the clear overarching company goals. Plus, roles and responsibilities contribute to the company’s key performance indicators (KPIs).

In fact, employees are 23% more likely to stay at their company if their roles and expectations are clearly laid out. And according to Forbes, clearly communicating each person’s purpose towards the company’s goal empowers employees to take action. 

It’s important to hand your employees decision-making confidence so that they can make intentional steps towards your company goals.

Hallmark GIF - pat on the back

So, when defining roles, consider how each contributes to the overall purpose of your company. This can be seen when you set individual KPIs for each role so that everyone knows how they’re contributing to the big picture.

For example, your company KPI might be to reach a certain number of store visits for the year. And your growth marketing manager role might have an individual KPI of driving a determined number of ad views for the quarter. 

With that knowledge, your growth marketing manager will create content around those goals. This might look like highlighting new products and sales in social media content to drive people to the store. 

And those with HR roles can infuse your company’s purpose into every step of your hiring process. When your goals become part of job descriptions, postings, and interview processes, you can be sure new hires are aligned with your company vision.

2. Foster healthier workplace relationships

When you keep everyone on the same page for who does what, you’re streamlining communication. Which, in turn, cultivates a healthy team culture.

Gaps in communication create a not-so-fun guessing game called “Whose job is it today?” Resulting in one person having to pull everyone else’s weight. 

After all, someone has to get things done. And, ultimately, this breeds resentment amongst your team, which can be irrecoverable. 

But by clearly defining responsibilities, you alleviate that tension. No one will have to be the villain or the pushover, because ownership has already been decided. In turn, this will boost your company culture and the quality of your team’s work.  

You hired each person for a reason. And when you outline their responsibilities based on their strengths, it helps the whole team succeed!

Let’s say you have a writing task that needs to be assigned to someone on your customer support team. If one of your support team members is exceptionally skilled in that area, they can take on the responsibility and hone in on those skills. Meanwhile, the other support team members take on other tasks they are more skilled in.

In the same way, hold leadership accountable for what responsibilities they should own, while empowering them to delegate tasks to their people.

Some responsibilities are only reasonable for managerial positions (like team development, 1:1 check-ins, and so on). But you can work with those in management roles to determine what tasks can be passed along to a senior on their team. 

3. Save time and money

If you’re like most SMB leaders, you don’t have a lot of free time. But investing in proper documentation now will save you way more time down the road.

The Office GIF - Stanley looking between the clock and his watch

By outlining employee responsibilities sooner rather than later, you save time and energy for other, more important decisions that will eventually hit your plate. So when (not “if”) projects and problems come up, you have a solid foundation of who’s doing what. 

Let’s say your website goes down. You shouldn’t waste time wondering who can jump in to save the day. You should already have an employee who is well-informed on the correct procedure when it comes to fixing it ASAP.

Now, this isn’t to say that team members can’t step outside their roles and lend creative solutions to problems. Your company should still create space for collaboration. 

Teamwork can sometimes force folks outside of their roles when they often find themselves lending a helping hand. When this happens, it’s time to check and see if responsibilities are still true or if they need to be changed.

4. Define employee growth paths

Without well-thought-out roles and responsibilities, it’s nearly impossible to define someone’s growth path. After all, if someone doesn’t know their starting position, how will they know where to head? And if they don’t have a solid foundation of responsibility, how can they develop the skills needed to move on?

If you don’t make growth opportunities clear, you risk losing talent to a company that does. A 2018 study showed that over half of employees didn’t see themselves staying at their job long-term because they didn’t see professional growth opportunities within their organization.

And when these team members leave, it can cost an average of $3,000 to hire, train, and onboard their replacements. And just like that, your remaining team members will be hit with the responsibilities of the offboarding employee

GIF - "responsibilities" paper hitting "me" dog

Once you’ve documented roles and responsibilities for every position, the next steps for professional development become clear and actionable. Because when you’ve got everyone’s positions and responsibilities written down, your team can see growth paths from any starting point.  

At Trainual, we give each new employee a job scorecard when they start. A job scorecard is a tool that offers a high-level snapshot of a role. It includes responsibilities, metrics for success, and a growth path. 

For instance, a recruiter scorecard might have daily tasks like sourcing and interviewing candidates, as well as metrics like hitting onboarding project deadlines.

A scorecard will also list the skill sets enhanced by the role and potential career paths within your business. That way, your employee knows exactly what they need to do to level up at the company.

When leaders and team members have transparent communication about current and future responsibilities, it pushes everyone towards attainable goals.

Because having conversations about what needs to get done and who can do them helps get everyone on the same page to gear up for success. 

5. Increase productivity

It’s much easier for your team to be productive when they understand what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s because a big chunk of time is wasted when team members simply don’t have a clue how to start their day. 

Fresh Prince of Bel Air GIF - Will looking around, lost

Your team should walk in the door (or log on remotely) knowing exactly what they need to accomplish. Every morning.

Workers with clearly defined roles are 53% more efficient than those left guessing. And, of course, increasing productivity saves you time and money. 

It also saves your team from boredom. Even though there’s a lot going on, those without clear direction will feel like there’s nothing to do. At that point, what are you paying them for?

If your employees are bored, it falls back on you. But documenting roles and responsibilities will help keep your team accountable throughout their workday.

6. Make transitions easier

Unfortunately, you can’t expect all of your amazing people to stay at your company forever (cue the tears). But you can prepare your team for when someone decides to move on.

If you don’t have that person’s responsibilities documented, the transition will be messy for those temporarily taking on the responsibilities. And what duties to put on the job description for that matter.

Documenting responsibilities is not just to prepare for when someone has to leave. It also clarifies what still needs to get done if someone goes on vacation, calls in sick, or has a family emergency.

Overall, this can help your team to step in for both planned events and the unexpected. If someone can’t make it into the office last minute, your company shouldn’t come grinding to a stop. You should be able to pull up all the urgent tasks they’re responsible for that day and delegate them to someone else. 

How to define roles and responsibilities

Thoughtfully developing roles and responsibilities for your team goes beyond writing one-off job descriptions. You need a continuous process of creating and refining them.

This is crucial to keeping your team motivated and aligned with your company’s goals. Stagnant roles and responsibilities draw a curtain over exciting company growth and positive changes. So, it’s best to explicitly define each role and responsibility, leaving no room for confusion. 

While roles and responsibilities certainly go hand in hand, you want to start by defining the roles each person plays in your company first. Then, outline their unique responsibilities. And the best way is to start big, and narrow in. 

Step 1: Get clear on the big picture

Before you can adequately define someone’s role, you have to know the bigger part your company is playing in the market. 

So, start by asking a few questions to make sure everyone’s on the same page, such as: 

  1. What is our company trying to accomplish?
  2. Who do we serve with our product/services?
  3. How does our team solve problems for our customers?

Then, take those answers and write down how each role contributes to those goals. When you do this, you can get a clear picture of the part every single team member plays. 

For example, your customer experience team will contribute to company goals differently than your human resources team. These contribution differences are where you’ll start to draft up the roles and responsibilities your company needs. 

Let’s use Trainual as an example. Our platform exists to help SMBs build their playbooks, so leaders of the company can focus on scaling.

Our customer experience team supports and educates customers on our product. Meanwhile, our HR team recruits people for the roles we’re missing and preserves our company culture via engagement activities. 

In other words, both teams are responsible for different pieces to the pie of helping SMBs build their business playbooks.

After breaking this down, you can use each team’s purpose to define the roles that make them up. And have a clear picture of how everyone works together to accomplish your company goals. 

Rick Ross GIF - Let's be amazing together

Step 2: Define the roles your team needs

Next, figure out what roles make up each department. You might already have some roles defined or you might be starting from scratch. Either way, ask yourself: what roles do we need to achieve each department’s goals?

Again, let’s look at Trainual. We need to make sure we’re providing support and educating customers on our product. Our customer experience team is responsible for this goal. So who do we need on that team to achieve it? 

We need someone to head up the team, like a customer experience VP. This role leads the team and ultimately makes sure each team member fulfills the responsibilities they own. 

And to do that, we need a few more key players. People to provide technical support (product experts), host webinars (success coaches), deploy and expand accounts (account managers), and so on. These are the roles the customer experience team needs to be successful. 

If the roles you define are ones that you don’t yet have, don’t worry! This is a great exercise to identify the areas of your team that need expansion. Take this opportunity to set targets for internal growth in upcoming stages. 

Step 3: Outline each person’s responsibilities

Next, get clear on what each role needs to accomplish day-to-day to achieve these larger goals.

To do this, take the goals for each role, and use them to define the responsibilities for each person with that role. 

Let’s look at Trainual’s content manager role. This role in the marketing team is responsible for overseeing our organic content strategy, including our blog, newsletter, and more. 

But this breaks down into smaller tasks such as high-level content strategy, managing writers, editing, and so on. These responsibilities are clear and necessary to ensure Trainual can accomplish its larger purpose. And if you set numeric objectives for each responsibility, they’re measurable too.

The content manager’s responsibilities roll into the marketing team’s larger responsibility (reach people who can benefit from our platform). Which connects to our company’s overall purpose (helping small businesses build a business playbook and scale). 

These responsibilities become measurable tasks and assignments that each team member is held accountable for. And team members will know that as they complete these tasks, they’ll be fulfilling their role on the team. 

Step 4: Communicate roles and responsibilities

After you put in the work to define the roles in your company and the responsibilities that correlate with each role, be sure to keep track of them. If they’re not written down, you have no proof that these tasks happening. And no way to keep anyone accountable or view what you have and adjust where it’s needed.

Keeping track of each person’s roles and responsibilities is easy with a playbook platform like Trainual. You can easily assign each team member one or more roles. Then, you can assign training content to your team members based on their roles. 

You might have one person with several roles in your company. When you hire someone new to take over one of those roles, you can transfer the role over to your new hire right in the platform. So, the new hire gets all of the training that now falls to them.

You can also document responsibilities with Trainual. And even assign them to a person based on their role. So you (and your team members) can keep track of who does what on a daily basis.

👉 Document your roles and responsibilities in Trainual, so you can hold your team accountable for what they own. Try for free

Step 5: Gather employee feedback

As you grow, your company’s purpose isn’t likely to change. But how you’re getting there might. So, your roles and responsibilities might need to change over time.  

This creates a need for a regular audit of your roles and responsibilities to ensure they’re up to date. That’s why you need to consistently check in with your team. 

Grey's Anatomy GIF - Are you okay?

At Trainual, leadership revisits each role twice per year. Managers meet with team members to make sure their workloads are reasonable and responsibilities still align with their roles.

If there is misalignment, the manager will delegate responsibilities to another role or hire someone new to help with some of the accumulated tasks.

Say a star employee’s performance has slipped. This might be a sign that the role needs to be revisited. 

More likely than not, too many responsibilities snuck onto their plate. Per VitalSmarts, three in five people said they’ve agreed to take on more tasks than they can actually get done on their to-do lists. 

Overbooking your employees paves the way to burnout. Per Deloitte, 42% of workers have left a job solely because of burnout.

To jump in front of this, get feedback on responsibilities and modify the plan as needed. When you speak with a team member, be sure to revisit what’s on their plate, ask how they’re feeling about their workload, and gauge if the tasks still match up with the person’s role. 

When you nail the right process for documenting roles and responsibilities, your team will thank you as they gain confidence in their day-to-day contributions, stay productive, and don’t miss a beat as your company changes and grows.

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