The Role Canvas: 4 Questions to help you re-think how you hire

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It may seem like a strange time to talk about hiring. I get that. We’re in the midst of massive changes in how we work and live that have created dramatic levels of job-loss across industries, and many companies are hesitant about hiring in this moment.

But (and there’s always a but), with weeks of valuable project time lost, there are many organisations who need to get work done and who are continuing to hire. And, with online tools and services now the default to buy, communicate, work, educate and entertain globally, some recruiters are reporting a surge in demand for product people .

Making a good hiring decision can be stressful and time consuming even at the best of times.

Mis-hires and resulting turnover is costly and can result in an organisation spending up to 1.5–2X of annual salary on someone who didn’t work out; and that doesn’t include the untold emotional financial cost that often accompanies a bad hiring decision. A study by the Nation Research Business Institute shows that:

  • 66% of employers said they experienced negative effects of bad hires
  • of these employers, 37% said the bad hire negatively affected employee morale
  • another 18% said the bad hire negatively impacted client relationships.

With the added pressures of tightening budgets, uncertain markets, and adjusting to the new normal of remote working, getting a hire right has never been more challenging and more important — for those doing the hiring and for those looking for work.

The Role Canvas: A collaborative approach to creating a meaningful role

Ensuring there’s a clear and shared understanding of the role that you’re hiring for is an essential first step to thinking more collaboratively and comprehensively about what a new role might be before the interviewing even begins. The Role Canvas that I’ve developed incorporates four (seemingly) simple questions to help you and your team do just that by focusing on the role’s purpose, accountabilities, and the human and technical skills essential to meeting the roles needs. By answering each question, a new piece of the role becomes clearer for the hiring manager, team members, stakeholders and recruiters involved.

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Here’s an overview of how to approach each question on the canvas:

  1. What is the purpose of the role? This isn’t simply restating the job title, but goes to the core of why the role really exists and what the role will be working towards every day. For example, the purpose of a new senior product role may be to lead a team to find new ways to engage and increase profitability with a new market.
  2. What is the role accountable for? What are the more actionable items that the role will own in service of the purpose? Driving a specific type of interaction with a target audience? Launching a new feature or service? Hitting a new level of customer service rating? Building out a new cross-functional team? It’s often challenging to know what the role will be responsible for longer term — or even in nine to 12 months. Start with the known goals or the outcomes* that the role will be working towards. Another way to approach this question is by flipping it, and first answering what this role is not responsible for. (*There are many definitions and frameworks behind creating effective outcomes. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend thinking from Josh Seiden in his book Outcomes over Outputs.)
  3. What human skills will the role need to display to achieve outcomes? For example, if this role is going to be part of a team that has experienced a lot of tension or conflict recently? If so, the person who takes the role needs to have strong conflict resolution skills. Or if the team is working with challenging stakeholders, the role needs to be filled by someone with strong influence or even leaderships skills. List the human skills needed for the role to be successful and prioritise them.
  4. What technical skills will the role need to be able to execute to meet the outcomes and achieve success? Will this role need to create a product vision or strategy? Use A/B testing or leading a design sprint? Build a new roadmap? Use Jobs-to-be-done? List all the technical skills the role will need to draw upon here and prioritise.

Facilitating a hiring team through these seemingly simplistic questions in a virtual or face-to-face workshop can generate useful debate around the role before you create a job description and start interviewing.

Holding a Role Canvas Session

Source: @youuxventures

When planning a Role Canvas workshop, keep these things in mind:

  1. Be inclusive Include members of the team that this new role would be joining, that includes engineers, designers, researchers, etc.. Also invite stakeholders and recruiting partners. Be inclusive, but don’t overwhelm the conversation. The ideal number of attendees is no more than 10.
  2. Create V.1 of the canvas — The goal of the first session is to come up with a draft response to all the questions that can be shared out and updated as more thinking comes in. Don’t expect to leave with a final piece of work.
  3. Work iteratively The canvas is a dynamic, iterative piece of work and a communication tools. As the hiring team begins to meet with candidates, their perspective about the role’s purpose, accountabilities, human and technical skills will became clearer and the canvas should be updated accordingly.

Creating a meaningful role is the foundation for building a strong product team. It ensures there’s clarity around purpose, accountabilities and skills — human and technical- that the team identifies collectively.

To find out more or to share your feedback on the Role Canvas, please visit:

Product, Org Design and Culture Transformation Consultant. Coach & Mentor. Learning to love tea.