We seem to talk a lot about goal setting. Short term goals, long term goals, team goals, individual goals. It appears that as organisations and senior leaders, we’ve finally cottoned on to the fact that the way to enable people to succeed is to give them something to aim at.
Goal setting is only part of the journey though. If we set our employees goals, and then leave them to it, we are setting them up to fail. The most successful organisations out there are those which don’t simply set goals… they then work alongside individuals and teams to specify results, break down barriers and ensure the consistent achievement of those goals.
For a long time, for most of us our goals would be laid out as a set of KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. If your experience is anything like mine was historically , these were laid out in a list, which would be given to you at your annual performance appraisal. You’d likely have the opportunity to briefly discuss and debate these, but then they would be locked and loaded for the year ahead.
What happened to those KPIs? Well, I suspect for a large majority of us, that piece of paper went into one of our desk drawers and came out at best sporadically over the year… likely more frequently as we got closer to our next annual appraisal and realised we would suddenly be called upon to prove how well we’d delivered upon them.
Did my set of KPIs that I was issued with back then radically alter what and how I delivered for the business I worked for? No, not really. They didn’t, because they were positioned almost as an ‘add on’ to my day job, something which the business only really cared about when it came round to appraisal time again. What could have been a really motivating set of goals instead became nothing more than a low priority ‘to do’ list.
So how can we change that? How can organisations approach goal setting differently, and by the setting of goals really facilitate achievements? Well, at Benefex we’ve completely turned on its head the process of goal setting… and this is what we’ve done:
#1 Objectives and Key Results
We’ve moved away from traditional KPIs to using the OKR framework. For those who aren’t already familiar with OKRs, the framework was first introduced in the 1970s by Andy Grove, the then President of Intel. OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. The idea is that you set 3-5 high level objectives on a quarterly basis. Each objective has between 3-5 key results, all of which are measurable and show how far that objective has been achieved.
Part of the (justified) criticism of KPIs is that they can vague and not easily measured. With OKRs, the framework forces you to outline the deliverables for each objective, providing absolutely clarity on whether or not it has been achieved.
#2 Keeping Goals Front Of Mind
Taking an annual look at goals achieves very little. If goals are truly important to you and your organisation, they should be one of the top agenda points every time you sit down and talk to the employees who work for you.
We now set OKRs quarterly as part of our quarterly employee review process. In between that though they will form a point for discussion at every single monthly one to one a line manager holds with their employees. This keeps them live, makes them real, and demonstrates to everyone just how critical achieving them is when it comes to our overall organisational delivery.
#3 Part Of The Bigger Picture
At the start of every year we talk to the organisation about what the key business strategic objectives are for the next twelve months. This is fairly meaningless though if we don’t then go on to talk about employees about how their personal OKRs feed into those larger goals. For example, if one of our strategic objectives for the year is to increase our portfolio of global clients, we’re almost certain to fail if our sales team don’t have OKRs which reflect this. For goal setting to be truly effective, employees need to understand how what they are individually delivering plays a part in achieving the bigger picture.
All of a sudden, goal setting becomes not a box ticking exercise, but something which is the difference between an organisation succeeding and failing. All of a sudden, it is your goal setting which is facilitating your delivery… which should make it a fundamental part of management practice for every single organisation out there.