For years, many companies have relied on antiquated goal-setting practices and goal-setting has been an annual affair that is retrospective and fails to provide real-time feedback. Inertia has prevented many companies from updating their goal-setting processes to align with new technologies and ways of working.
Now, many for the first time because of huge external changes brought on by Covid-19, leaders are needing to adjust their goals outside of their rigid annual timeline. While there's a lot of stress tied to this, there's also a lot of opportunity. Here's how to make goal-setting right.
In 2014, I, along with Stanford Professors Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao, studied Adobe's annual goal setting and performance review process. Adobe was, in many ways, ahead of the times when it decided to supplant its annual process with more constant "check-ins"--involving frequent goal-setting conversations between managers and their team members as often as every month.
Goal setting should be an ongoing and flexible process. Adobe's check-in process mimics the practice of making pit stops in race car competitions. Similar to pit stops, check-ins allow Adobe employees to refuel and make mechanical adjustments on an ongoing basis.
These days, many employees' "vehicles" are not in peak racing condition. That's okay. It simply makes check-ins all the more important. By offering employees time to assess what's going on in their life and set goals accordingly, check-ins ensure that employees are evaluated in a way that aligns with their circumstances. Not only does this alignment ease stress, but it also increases employees' motivation to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road ahead.
Adobe, like many other companies, embraces "OKRs" (although the company doesn't use this term). The term "OKR"--an acronym for objectives and key results--was introduced by Andy Grove during his tenure at Intel and was later popularized by legendary venture capitalist John Doerr during his stint at Google.
As part of the OKR process, each objective--an outcome that reflects current business priorities--has an associated key result. Key results should answer the question: How do I know when or if I have achieved my outcome?
The underlying premise of study (full disclosure: I work for Asana), less than half of people surveyed (46 percent) know how their work contributes to their company's mission.OKRs is simple--to align individual priorities with company objectives. But the practice is much more challenging than the premise. According to a recent Asana
One of the biggest pitfalls I see among companies implementing OKRs is cascading objectives down the organization. This approach is misguided--as well as a time-waster. Especially in times of crisis and complexity, the OKR process should be bottoms-up. If your company's priorities are well-defined, individuals should be empowered to set their own OKRs so that they align with company objectives. When the OKR process is bottoms-up, employees are engaged and feel a sense of ownership over their priorities.
Align goals with values.
Even companies with the best intentions can flounder when their goal-setting process is not aligned with their core values. I recently spoke with Natalie Baumgartner, who holds a Ph. D. in clinical psychology and is the Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, an employee engagement platform. Baumgartner emphasized the importance of ensuring your company's goals align with your company's core values.
As you adjust your goals based on your new reality, you'll need to make difficult decisions. Do you furlough employees? What resources do you offer your employees? Baumgartner emphasized that companies that use their core values as ''North Stars" to drive their goals are more likely to weather challenging times as compared to their counterparts that deviate from their core values.
Baumgartner also reminded me that your values shouldn't just inform how you set your goals, they should also inform how you achieve them. If you emerge out of this crisis achieving your objectives, how did you get there? Did you support employees throughout the process? Did you maintain the trust of your customers? It's not only what you do, it's how you do it.
Monitoring or accountability?
I've heard horror stories in recent weeks about companies resorting to invasive tactics to monitor employees and ensure they are operating "productively". This is disturbing in many respects. First, productivity today isn't the same as it was at the start of the year--it should entail a greater focus on caregiving, both to others and to oneself. Second, employee trust will almost inevitably take a nosedive amidst intensive monitoring.
If you have a reason to believe that your employees aren't fulfilling obligations that can reasonably be expected of them given their situation, focus on goal clarity and involving them in this process. Use these goals and OKRs--not monitoring--to ensure accountability.