My experiences of goals based management.

Goals Based Management (also known as OKRs — Objectives and Key Results) is a process for setting, communicating and monitoring quarterly goals and results.

I’ve been meaning to share my experiences of Goals Based Management for quite some time. It was reading Richard McLean’s 4 lessons and reading list blog posts that’s given me the nudge I needed. Some of this content is part of a taster session on Goals Based Management that I deliver to teams through our Forward Leadership programme.

In my team we use Goals Based Management to connect the strategic priorities of our Department to our directorate, team and individual objectives in a structured way, providing a golden thread.

As a team we believe that people are happier and more motivated when they have a shared mission/vision, know what their goals are (and why those goals are important) and have autonomy to deliver their goal in the way that best works for them. As a leader, I’m very much trying to create that culture of people playing where they play best.

Where did the process originate?

The following is shamelessly stolen from Perdoo:

How we ‘do’ Goals Based Management

  • Step 1: As a team we select our top 5 priorities for the quarter (these will be a combination of continuing existing work and entirely new user needs that we’ve discovered)
  • Step 2: We articulate how we will measure success against each priority (and this has to be observable, measurable impact) and who is right to deliver what
  • Step 3: Each week we update each other on progress through our Monday morning standup, and update our shared google sheet with simple notes/measurements/etc.
  • Step 4: As a team we review our goals and we set new ones each quarter. We find that this rhythm helps us to have the right conversations, to create a learning and feedback culture in our team, and refocus where needed.

What it looks like

As a team we use google sheets for our quarterly goals so that we have one shared document, can see each other’s progress at quick glance and collaborate much more easily. We capture the following:

  • The challenge
  • The objective
  • The key result
  • Benchmark
  • Current results + updates
  • Dependencies
  • Notes

Principles for goal setting

  • Everyone should have 3–5 goals per quarter.
  • Goals should be ambitious and feel somewhat uncomfortable — they should stretch and challenge you.
  • Everyone in the team should be able to see what everyone is working on and their updates in ‘real time’.
  • Goals Based Management does not replace employee evaluations. It is not about measuring people’s success through KPIs.

You might want to go a step further and share your goals with your entire organisation, or publish them for anyone to see (we don’t do this). For example, Google adds every employee’s OKRs into the employee directory.

So why do it? What are the benefits?

  • People contribute to, and inform, the direction of travel
  • It gives everyone in the team a voice, and encourages much more regular interaction across all roles
  • People feel empowered to deliver the goal in the way that best suits their skillset, working style, etc.
  • Provides transparency and accountability for the delivery of work
  • Constantly iterate throughout the year — check if we’re doing the right thing.
  • Supports prioritisation of activity, and helps us to articulate when we should pause work or stop doing something.
  • Provides visibility of what people are working on — to help reduce duplication of work (both in delivery and reporting)
  • Help us to understand each other’s priorities and build empathy [This one is super important — as humans, we have a rubbish part of our wiring that if we can’t see what someone is working on day-to-day, we assume they are doing nothing].
  • Address dependencies between teams
  • Create a learning culture and a culture of feedback
  • Can give us more dynamic information
  • Helps us to collect evidence that we can use in personal development reviews (as before, Goals Based Management isn’t about replacing the personal development process).
  • Helps to identify blockers before they become a problem and address challenges head on
  • Can support experimentation and ‘failure’.

What else?

  • Rather than traditional ‘top down’ approaches to goal setting where employees can struggle to understand how they contribute to organisational success, this approach empowers teams to design goals that are aligned to their own mission. It brings everyone along on the journey.
  • Goals Based Management is all about putting the individual’s role, their skills and strengths into the heart of the approach.
  • An organisational culture which encourages and supports openness and is underpinned by trust is key to the success of this approach.

Where next?

As I mentioned, this is just one of the techniques we’ve been introducing to teams through Forward Leadership, with the aim to making people more outcomes oriented. A number of teams have been trying out the approach and we’ve been spending time with them — acting as their ‘critical friend’ to help assess the design of their goals. This is really to provide them with a fresh pair of eyes to see if what they’ve articulated makes perfect sense to a stranger.

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Final words?

Image credit: Stacie Swift

Design, leadership, open culture, data, ethics, justice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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