You are what you measure: people in your organization will naturally optimise for the metrics that you track, so you need to make sure that your incentives are getting you what you really want. The new Viva Goals app aims to help organizations track the projects and OKRs they care about, while also giving employees a clear view of what the business wants them to prioritise.
What are OKRs?
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a framework for setting clear goals for what you want to achieve, measurable outcomes that will tell you if you’re achieving them and the initiatives and projects that are supposed to get you there. Objectives are more concrete than a mission statement, the company values or vision and even the broad priorities of business strategy: they’re what the business will focus on in the near term and key results are how you measure if you’ve reached those objectives.
Intel CEO Andy Grove popularized the OKR approach in the 1980s and Kleiner Perkins chairman John Doerr brought it to wider attention in his 2018 book, Measure What Matters, but it’s based on Peter Drucker’s Management by Objective approach from the 1950s. It’s also frequently misunderstood, but the principles are a good fit for the world of remote work where organizations need to be more deliberate about making it clear what is supposed to be accomplished by the work employees do.
How we work — and track our work — is changing
Priorities have changed during the pandemic, according to the latest Microsoft Work Trend Index: Employees care more about health, wellbeing and flexibility, they want a sense of purpose and they want to be paid for their impact rather than just the hours they work. But managers feel squeezed between company leaders and what employees want and over half say their leaders are out of touch with those employee expectations.
Every business has plans, goals and targets, but it’s often unclear to employees how specific tasks contribute to the bigger picture of the business or if they should change work priorities when business leaders announce a new initiative.
Having clear goals that are clearly communicated can help deal with the disconnect between executives and employees about company strategy and performance and having those goals and metrics connected to the tools you use to get work done makes it easier to track progress.
Viva Goals won’t work out what everyone needs to do, but you can use it to make the way your organization sets goals and monitors progress more rigorous, with a hierarchy of objectives for the business overall and individual business areas and teams, with a handful of key results that you believe will deliver each objective. Business leaders can still have big-picture initiatives but those will get fleshed out by objectives for teams and individuals that have measurable key results that track specific, focused efforts to deliver an objective. You can mix ‘committed’ and ‘aspirational’ goals, making it clear which ones have clear, actionable plans and which are things the business is hoping to see but isn’t depending on.
Making metrics more visible
Although you can choose to keep some objectives private, by default objectives are visible to everyone in the organization, so everyone can see what matters and what progress is being made. Viva Goals reminds the objective owners to check in regularly to track how they’re doing; those check-ins are also public, so you know managers and business leaders still follow progress against the goals.
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Integrate data from across the organization
Many of the tasks that deliver key results will already be tracked in other systems, but those details tend to only be visible to the people that work with them. Only the people managing and working on a project see the progress that’s tracked in the project management system. If you’re building software, you’re probably tracking bugs, feature requests, issues, releases and other metrics in GitHub, GitLab or Azure DevOps, but even business leaders who take the time to look at developer tools can’t easily see how those metrics actually contribute to business priorities and objectives.
Connect that data to Viva Goals and instead of a weekly status meeting where managers write a report about their team’s progress and then spend time explaining it, the key results can be automatically updated.
The data can come from a wide range of systems: databases like MySQL, SQL Server, Snowflake and Google BigQuery (and Excel, Smartsheet and spreadsheets stored in Box), business intelligence services like Domo, Looker, Mode and Tableau, planning and issue tracking services like JIRA, Asana, Trello and Zendesk, CRM and sales tracking services like Salesforce, Hubspot and Monday.com. If you’re organizing related key results into projects, you can bring those projects in from Asana, JIRA and Wrike or create them from scratch in Viva Goals.
If the list of integrations seems slightly eclectic it’s because many of them were developed by Ally.io before its acquisition by Microsoft; we expect a longer list of integrations before Viva Goals launches, especially Microsoft 365 apps like Project and Planner.
Connect data from Power BI
The new Power BI metrics feature is a good example of how that will work. These are connected metrics, KPIs and scorecards that can be structured into hierarchies, take data from reporting and analysis solutions and show them in reports and dashboards. You can see milestones and targets, get a heatmap that shows outliers across different levels of the hierarchy so you know what to concentrate on and specify details like whether you care about the sum or the average of a particular metric.
That metrics data will also flow into Viva Goals, so you won’t need to set up the same integrations twice: Power BI has connectors for a huge number of service and data sources. But while Power BI has powerful tools for understanding the data for a particular metric or KPI (so you can understand what’s behind the figures), it doesn’t tell you anything about why that metric matters to the business, or how to decide what success looks like: that’s what the objectives in Viva Goals are for.
Add contextual data with notes
Along with the progress data that’s automatically tracked, the owners of different OKRs are also supposed to comment on how these goals are doing and they might decide to manually score results if the numbers don’t tell the whole story. If the key results for an objective are to have a certain number of meetings to help you get funding or make sales, and you didn’t have as many meetings as you put in your goal because you closed the deal after just a few meetings or you had more meetings but didn’t actually achieve the objective for that key result, you might want to change the score Viva Goals suggests, and you can.
Notifications are built in
You get warnings for objectives that start late, the way you would in a project management tool, but also when you haven’t set any key results — or you’ve set too many, suggesting you haven’t really got a clear goal. You also get warnings for objectives that were too easy to achieve, because the score isn’t just how well or badly you met the goal but how useful the goal was: are you trying to achieve something impossible or are you coasting?
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Use the insights to guide conversations
This process is what distinguishes Viva Goals from a project planning and tracking app. You use the structure of objectives and key results to connect the big picture directives from business leaders to what people will actually work on day to day, and you put the progress that’s being made on those OKRs in context when you evaluate them. Colleagues and co-workers can also comment on check-ins, and those comments are visible alongside the OKRs, so check-ins are an opportunity to start a discussion or do some team building, as well as keeping people up to date.
The success system that drives Microsoft
That kind of transparency helps employees understand what they should be working on, in their own teams or when they need to work with other groups in the organization. Microsoft has used OKRs internally to make sure that teams who are working together have a common goal. Viva Goals is a tool to get that kind of transparency, visibility, autonomy and accountability in your organization, but it’s only going to be as good as the planning and commitment you put into setting realistic and carefully considered objectives.
Viva Goals is currently in private preview; we expect a public preview this summer and it should be generally available (and included with the Microsoft Viva subscription) in the third quarter of 2022.