There are two ways to look at roles – the first is what we call big ‘R’ roles the second small ‘r’.
Here is a quick summary of the key difference between Big and small ‘r’ perspectives on roles.
Here is the difference between big ‘R’ and small ‘r’ explored in more detail:
Client Insight: “When roles can become a source of internal competition. This is what has happened to one of our global clients. Each of the individual business line owners had put their name forward for the newly vacated role of overall business leader. Those who had previously been colleagues were now competitors and it was starting to show in increasingly political behaviors such as a reluctance to share information, show-boating and so on. This was compounded by a lack of transparency in the process of appointment which seemed to drag on from month to month.”
Formal big R roles make life simple. Everyone knows ‘where they stand’ – what they are responsible for and who they are responsible too. This applies in neat functional lines from the top to the bottom of the organization. However, this clarity and simplicity often comes at a price in terms of speed and agility.
Big ‘R’ is great for visibility, predictability and control, but it can result in silos, bureaucracy and inflexibility.
When the ‘Big R’ organization seeks to change speed or direction it embarks on an organizational restructure, perhaps a cultural transformation too. These are fraught with danger. It is often a slow and disruptive process with no guaranteed of success.
The key distinction between Big and small ‘r’ roles is that the former are static and the latter are dynamic. Those one is adaptive and agile, while the other is not.
The problem is that Big ‘R’ roles, as set out in job descriptions, were defined long before today’s business priorities or projects were even conceived. So, how can they possibly reflect the realities of people’s roles on a day to day basis.
Small ‘r’ – roles that are dynamic and adapt or evolving – enable greater speed, agility and innovation. It is also to foster bottom-up ownership, as well as collaboration across silos. Thus, while big ‘R’ is in the control of the boss, small ‘r’ is in the control of teams – they are empowered to find the best way of working together.
Small ‘r’ promises 3 or more times more benefits than big ‘R’. That is to say clarifying and adapting roles is a lot more powerful than an organizational re-shuffle. Moreover, unlike big ‘R’ it is fast and entails little if any risk.
Thus, the failure to distinguish between big and small ‘r’ is a major blind spot that denies leaders access to one of the most powerful levers of performance. It therefore hinders speed, agility, collaboration and innovation.
In reality many organizations are somewhere between big ‘R’ and small ‘r’. Leaders want greater speed, agility and innovation. Their ambitious strategies require effective cross-functional collaboration. Thus, some ambiguity, confusion or even conflict around roles is therefore inevitable.
Right roles is one of the 7 rights of performance design (team set-up or structure). It is one of the most important aspects of performance design that our clients leverage to optimize collaboration and ways of working on critical projects and initiatives.