In the current business climate it’s no secret that to remain competitive organisations need to make the most of what they have. When pressure gets applied, it is often not enough to simply throw more resources at the issue, especially when those resources may not be available. Asking people to work harder can also be counterproductive in both the short and longer term. Quality of work usually suffers, efforts become disjointed and it has a negative impact on the motivation and wellbeing of staff.
With this under consideration the best way to maximise the productivity of people is through a properly aligned workforce. Making sure everybody is focussed on what they need to achieve as individuals to support the specific objectives of the team, which in turn supports the primary objectives of the organisation.
We’ve all heard the phrase about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing when describing a disorganised environment. Knowing what the other is doing is very important; however that knowledge alone will not carry you through. The best results come when each hand performs its tasks in coordination with the other, whether to complement the other’s action or simply not to hinder them. Think about a champion swimmer in action. Being the strongest and fittest athlete alone won’t be enough to win the race. It requires the hands, arms, legs, feet, torso and head all working smoothly together to propel the swimmer through the water quicker than the competition, even though each is performing a different task.
The workplace is similar wherein the business units are like each part of one body. All must perform their own function in coordination with the others to optimise performance across the board.
Focus on Key Results
Understanding what’s important is the critical component. For this it’s always best to start looking from the top down. Think about the primary purpose of the organisation then start to identify the individual Objectives needed to achieve it. Each Objective can then be broken into a series of Key Results. Often (but not always) these Key Results can become Objectives of another group or person with each of those subsequently having their own set of Key Results applied.
This is a strategy that begins on a macro level then filters down through departments, teams and individuals becoming increasingly more granular. What you end up with is a clearly defined set of outcomes for people to focus on rather than simply being busy within the bounds of their role description.
Another advantage of breaking the Objective down into smaller “bite size” results is the overall task feels less intimidating to those involved. This subtle shift in psychology will help reduce any angst among those contributing. The job feels “easier” and provided these Key Results are specific enough, when completed the Objective is attained by default.
Accountability through visibility
The other key factor is visibility and transparency of the Objectives. When each person or team knows what others are working on it is much easier to coordinate activities.
Another major advantage is the increased the level of accountability. Everybody can clearly see who is responsible for achieving the Objectives and therefore can eliminate any buck passing or confusion.
The support network within a group will also improve. People can identify when somebody in the team may be overloaded without them needing to stick their hand up. We know some people are reluctant to ask for help – better visibility of tasks allows teams to be proactive in assisting others.
Lastly, the outcomes should be measured to determine success. No rocket science there, although it should not always be considered a failure if the Objective is not met 100%. In many situations people will pursue “Stretch Objectives”. This is where the target is placed beyond what is practical to achieve. As people then strive to get as close as possible to the objective, they theoretically end up with the best possible result.
A strategy based on Objectives and Key Results has been the basis for operational excellence pursued by Google, LinkedIn, Oracle, Zynga and many other modern day global giants. While their methods are highly structured, the same concept can still be adopted by organisations of any size and industry by following four simple rules:
- Understand what’s important for the organisation to be successful
- Identify the Objectives and Key Results needed to achieve this
- Make sure the Objectives are visible to all
- Measure the outcomes to determine success
Of course there are other factors that contribute to a fully aligned workforce, particularly communication and collaboration. That’s a whole other topic; however by first aligning the objectives you provide a solid foundation from where you can incorporate these other factors. Everybody will work so much more effectively without necessarily having to work harder. Just like that champion swimmer you’re getting the best possible result from the efforts put in.
Chris Lord – Business Development – Employee Life