SMART Work Enables Mastery

The second letter in the SMART work framework stands for Mastery. This refers to the degree to which your job provides role clarity, feedback and task identity. 

Role clarity describes the degree to which you clearly understand what you need to do and what is expected of you. Feedback refers to the degree to which your job provides information on your performance in the role, Finally, task identity is the degree to which your job allows you to take a task from beginning to end. 

When people feel a sense of mastery from their work, there are a number of benefits.


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Qualities of Work With a High Degree of Mastery

Work that enables mastery is work in which:

  • you are clear on what to do and why

  • you receive feedback and recognition from supervisors and peers in addition to feedback on performance from the job itself

  • you can complete a whole piece of work with identifiable outcomes

Even though you feel tired, you get emails and stars to tell you thanks.

Regular appraisals help you to improve or to give you feedback if you did well.

- Aged Care Worker.

Qualities of Jobs With a Low Degree of Mastery

In contrast, jobs with a low degree of mastery involve:

  • excessive ambiguity about your role and responsibilities

  • irregular or no feedback including a lack of recognition for good performance

  • working on fragmented 'bits' of a process allowing no big picture perspective

“It’s challenging to accept that your staff are not going to tell you when you’ve done something well. You’re a business owner – you don’t get feedback”

- Café owner.

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What Are the Risks of Low Mastery Jobs?

The research is clear when it comes to work that doesn’t support mastery.

For individuals, it can lead to job stress, poor well-being, job dissatisfaction, turnover, and even a failure to learn [1] [2].

For organisations, it can mean impaired performance, inefficiency, and a lack of agility [3] [4].  While this is important to note, encouragingly, there are things that you can do to increase your own, or your teams, sense of mastery and improve the overall experience at work.

Research Spotlight

Far-reaching occupational changes have occurred in recent years. Work hours and environments have become more flexible, and organisations have had to overcome numerous transformations, such as restructuring, downsizing, and outsourcing. A systematic review of 33 studies, comprised of 19,926 individuals, explored a number of role stressors at work and found that a lack of role clarity was a significant predictor of depression.  This research is in line with other findings that show that work that doesn’t support mastery can lead to job stress and impaired performance. [5]

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Strategies to Increase Mastery

We know that good work is productive work. If you find yourself or your employees in a role that provides little opportunity for mastery, there are a number of strategies you may find beneficial.

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Strategies for Employees

Below are some practical strategies to help boost the degree of mastery you receive in your job:

  • Be the first to give and ask for formal and informal feedback. Check if the any of the tasks you complete can offer immediate feedback. 

  • Meet with your manager and ask for more clarity about the tasks you have been assigned and why. You may like to ask for clear performance criteria. 

  • Sit down with your team or with your manager to work out how to group the team’s interdependent tasks to make a meaningful set. Make sure to involve a balance between less popular and desirable tasks.

Strategies for Managers

​Guiding your team towards experiencing mastery can lead to a number of positive outcomes. 

  • Show employees where to look for feedback in their tasks.

  • Reorganise work by combining tasks done by different people, so one employee completes a process. Where possible, combine interdependent tasks into a job.

  • Describe how a tasks fits into the larger process: the input, output, previous and subsequent steps.

  • Aim to group tasks into a meaningful job that allows for an overview and understanding of the work process as a whole. Workers should be able to perceive the end product or service as contributing to some part of the organisation's objectives.

  • Ensure workers get feedback on their performance, ideally from the task as well as from the supervisor. Provide internal and external customer feedback direct to workers. 

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Strategies for Organisations


Get in touch with our Collaboratory to discuss tailored strategies for your organisation or get inspired by our selection of resources.




[1]  Abramis, D. J. (1994). Work role ambiguity, job satisfaction, and job performance: Meta-analyses and review. Psychological reports, 75(3_suppl), 1411-1433.

[2]  Damanpour, F. (1991). Organizational innovation: A meta-analysis of effects of determinants and moderators. Academy of management journal, 34(3), 555-590.

[3]  Humphrey, S. E., Nahrgang, J. D., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). Integrating motivational, social, and contextual work design features: a meta-analytic summary and theoretical extension of the work design literature. Journal of applied psychology, 92(5), 1332.

[4]  Parker, S. K. (2014). Beyond motivation: Job and work design for development, health, ambidexterity, and more. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 661-691.

[5] Schmidt, S., et al. (2014). "Uncertainty in the workplace: Examining role ambiguity and role conflict, and their link to depression—a meta-analysis." European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 23(1): 91-106.