Ask any American business owner about the everyday challenges they face in management, and employee motivation and alignment will come up early in the conversation. In the midst of facing challenges such as disengaged workers, employees feeling purposeless in their jobs, and plateaued worker skillsets, managers are also bombarded with the latest collaboration tools, engagement platforms, and technological solutions that promise to fix the gap between disconnected employees and managers. Whether working to get a startup off the ground, or as a C-level manager at a business that’s been around for years, fixing the misalignment gap is a problematic and often touchy subject. The challenge isn’t in setting goals; in fact, most executives are so full of vigor and enthusiasm for their product or service, they truly believe it will change the world. With this attitude comes the tendency to set outrageously lofty and immeasurable goals even if the results never materialize.
At the same time, your entire workforce might be walking in the door each day with very little understanding of how they fit into the big picture. Employees might set goals on their own time for moving up within the organization or might even ambitiously consider their current position a jumping off point for the next job they take. This model only spirals into a never-ending cycle of low employee retention and lack of purpose at work.
At the end of the day, what’s really missing on both the manager and employee sides of the equation is alignment. True alignment between managers and employees draws the connection between a CEO’s vision and workers who ask why they’re doing the tasks they’re being assigned. Unfortunately, most workplaces are largely misaligned. In their research, Harvard professors and co-authors of The Strategy-Focused Organization Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton found that a shocking 93 percent of employees don’t fully understand their company’s business strategies and what’s expected of them as individuals to achieve those goals.
Misalignment is the cause for the modern day problems like low employee engagement, retention, and even helping employees improve their skillsets. So how do we achieve alignment in the workplace?
A new kind of goal-setting Goal-setting has been a common practice in organizations for years, but simply setting goals doesn’t translate to alignment between company objectives and employees, no matter what the rate of goal achievement. Traditional goal setting empowers temporary feelgood emotions of accomplishment and vigor about work, but those feelings are short-lived and, if misaligned, don’t do much to enrich the business.
When implemented correctly, Objective and Key Results (OKRs) goal setting can build (and already has built) some of the most undeniably innovative companies in existence today. Born out of Intel and later actualized at Google by John Doerr, OKRs have been responsible for more than just solving the alignment problem. They’ve enabled organizations like Google to encourage innovation and ambition at all levels, while still aligning new ideas and dreams with the bigger company vision. From the thirty thousand foot view, it’s clear Google has inspired innovation while aligning managers and employees—all by following a transparent and effective goal-setting pattern.
The concept of OKRs is simple: identify an objective, or what you want to accomplish, and then outline the expected key results and how you will accomplish that objective. The key to OKRs methodology is defining clear, measurable, and time-sensitive metrics for each key result. Even in a situation where an organization undergoes a major pivot, OKRs remain flexible and can easily be adapted to accommodate new company goals or modified visions.
The game-changing breakdown
While the OKRs model is simple, some basic rules should be followed. Managers should keep transparency, ambition, accountability, and a clear-cut timeline in mind when deploying OKRs to fix alignment or disconnected employee issues.
The action of goal-setting itself is important for connecting employees with their managers and vice versa. Real alignment moves the company in the right direction and increases employees’ value from a manager’s viewpoint. Start by breaking down goals in a way that doesn’t make employees feel stuck— either in mundane tasks or overall in their position within the organization. Managers should guide employees in setting goals, but ultimately let it remain employees’ responsibility. Empowering employees to set their own goals that fit within the company’s bigger picture goals gives workers a sense of responsibility over their own progress without forfeiting alignment.
The reason Google has pioneered innovation in so many arenas comes back to the ambitious goals of individual employees. Goals should stretch employees, not allow them to remain stagnant. Achieving ambitious goals gives workers purpose at their jobs, which can lead to greater happiness and retention. When employees are given control over their own future within their current jobs, they become motivated to stay instead of pushed to leave to find where the grass is greener.
While innovation plays a vital role in the goal-setting process, goal execution and accountability are equally as important. A company tipped too far in one direction might see OKRs backfire. Too much responsibility on the employee side can take you right back to misalignment, and too much on the accountability side might make employees feel trapped. It’s the manager’s job to set up a system of accountability, whether in the form of a goal science technology or creating a system of constant feedback and coaching between managers and employees. Only setting goals with no feedback, accountability, or reward will leave you right back where you started: misaligned and disconnected.
Bridging the gap
Managers can’t do it all. It’s challenging to have a vision and then bring the entire team on board to fully embrace and act on that vision. Goal-setting has worked well in the past, but traditional methods don’t necessarily lead to company-wide alignment and complete employee buy-in.
Truly bridging the gap between disconnected employees and managers will solve a number of other problems today’s workforce is facing. As a manager, how often have you wondered why your employees aren’t performing at their best, or why they seem less motivated than when they first walked through the door? Alignment can solve a number of problems, but it must start with aligning what everyone—from C-level executives to mid-level managers to employees— is working toward.