Four Tools for Balancing “Multiple Hats” with “Dedicated Swim Lanes”

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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balanceGrowing companies constantly grapple with the contradictory philosophies of “Multiple Hats” and “Dedicated Swim Lanes.” After all, how can one be expected to focus on only one responsibility when they have to pitch in and help with many other requirements?

There are four tools business owners can use to clear up confusion surrounding who owns what responsibility in an organization:

1: The Job Description. First and foremost, employers must begin with a very clear job description that explains exactly what behaviors and outputs are expected from each employee. This basically identifies the “swim lane.”

The clearer the job description, the more alignment there will be between employees and employers. Once the employee is on-boarded, their supervisor should revisit the job description periodically to determine if requirements and expectations have shifted. Frequent communication will prevent a build-up of frustration that results from misaligned expectations.

Often, a company will move employees into different roles depending on what the company needs. While this offers employees a chance to grow, it’s important to make sure that the business and the employee are not set up for failure by deviating too far from their strengths and likes. One of the quickest ways to disengage an employee is to hire them for one job, and then pull a “bait-and-switch” by pushing them into a different position that they may not have applied for in the first place.

Staying true to Jim Collins’ famous principle to get the right people in the right seats goes a long way in creating successful dedicated swim lanes and career paths.

2: The Org Chart. The org chart is an important communications tool. When used correctly, it demonstrates reporting structures, communications flows, and expectations surrounding roles. Reporting relationships have a lot of power, and can impact the dynamics and communication of an organization. If you have a matrixed organization where people often shift around to support multiple teams and projects, the org chart is especially important because it shows consistent/dependable hierarchy in a continuously changing structure. Just like the job description, it’s an effective tool to carve out a dedicated swim lane.

3: Identification of Secondary/Supporting Roles. In large companies, employees often function like a cog in a wheel. They are hired for one specific task, and that is their focus. However, in smaller companies, everyone has to wear “multiple hats.” While an employee may be hired for a specific task, it is likely that they can add value, and will be needed, in secondary roles. For example, a writer can double as an editor or a quality-checker. Or, a project manager can also be billable as another project resource, depending on the scope of the project.

It’s rare that an employee spends 100% of their time on a single task, unless they work on-site at a client’s location. Therefore, when an employee joins the organization, it’s a good idea to assess their ability to serve others in supporting roles, and communicate their supporting abilities to the leadership team.

4: Communicated Expectations. Business owners should never assume that employees understand an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality. When employees apply for a job, they are applying for ONE job. They are not applying to many jobs. From the first interview, employers must communicate an all-hands-on-deck culture. In today’s business environment, the phrase, “It’s not my job” won’t cut it. Business growth and sustainability is everyone’s job.

One of my clients has what he calls an “eat-what-you-kill” culture. Everyone is responsible for contributing to revenue generation, and this ensures job security. A shared mindset of collective contributions is essential in today’s environment, where everyone in the company is “in sales.” While a company may employ dedicated sales people, anyone that has any interaction with current or prospective customers should also be scouting opportunities for business.

In all business environments today, employees must have a team-based mentality. The health of the top line (sales) and bottom line (income) is everyone’s responsibility. Therefore every employee must be committed to doing the best job possible in their “swim lane” while also being willing to wear “multiple hats.”

The whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.

Keep growing!



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About Successful Culture
We work with business owners, CEOs, and leadership teams that want to achieve their greatest personal & organizational potential. Through coaching, strategic consulting, retreat facilitation, and workshops, we equip leaders & emerging leaders with the mindset, tools, strategies, and processes they need to excel.

Ready to move forward? Email us today at [email protected].

Connect with me on Instragram, Facebook, and Twitter. Engage with me during my morning Periscope sessions as well (@marissalevin).

Please check out my Inc. Magazine columns on my Author Page too.
– In my latest Inc, article, I share The Essential Guide to Avoiding Workplace Text, Email, & Social Media Disasters.
– Learn about the 9 Leadership Behaviors that Lose Employee Trust & Respect here.

~Marissa Levin
CEO, Successful Culture
“Taking Leaders from Triage to Transformation.”

Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn at

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