Articles / Use roles to aid
Roles allow you to use a computer science concept called
'indirection' to add flexibility to the way your staff are organised. They
also allow you to define job descriptions clearly, and make sure that
everyone in your organisation knows who does what and who is responsible for
When procedures are first introduced to an organisation,
people often make the mistake of putting individuals' names into them:
"Joe takes the timesheets, files them and gives the summary sheet to
Jane". Of course, when Joe leaves the organisation, no-one knows who
should file the timesheets.
Most organisations are organised around a series of job
titles, and an organisation chart that shows who reports to who. This allows
a certain amount of robustness in procedures: "The Team Coordinator
takes the timesheets, files them and gives the summary sheet to the Team
Unfortunately, job titles change even more often than
staff. So you're left with the job of trying to keep your procedures up to
date during reorganisations, staff movements and job upgrades and mergers.
In some organisations, this is worse than using people's names in the
A role is simply a set of actions and responsibilities
that someone carries out. It normally represents a subset of one person's
job, so that each person has more than one role.
For example, if you want all of the filing to be done by
the Team Coordinator, you define a role called Filing. The job of Team
Coordinator might include the following roles:
The procedure now looks like this: "The Timesheet
processor takes the timesheets, files them and gives the summary sheet to
the Timesheet authoriser".
The advantage of this comes when you decide to reorganise.
The Team Coordinator job has grown too big, and needs to be split between
two people. You create a new job title Assistant Team Coordinator, and split
the roles between them:
You don't have to change any of the procedures to achieve
this. Later, you realise that it makes sense for the person who sits on the
reception desk (the Receptionist role) to do the post, so you change the
roles to this:
... again, without changing the procedures.
Notice that both positions have the additional role of
'Employee'. This is a catch-all role which you can use to write procedures
that cover everyone in the organisation.
The key to using roles is to choose collections of tasks
and responsibilities which are not too large, and not too small.
Make sure that everyone is aware of which roles they have
(put a list of roles in their job descriptions ... in fact, they will often
be the most important part of the job description).
Make sure that people can find all of the procedures that
relate to each of their roles (have an index of procedures by role).
Roles are a simple idea which costs virtually nothing to
implement. The advantage is that your policies and procedures won't fall
apart the next time you change your organisation, and that might mean the
difference between documentation that is useful and maintainable, and mere