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OKRs and Their Influence on Employee Engagement

Jason Diamond Arnold

March 22, 2019

According to Gallup’s 2018 survey, 53% of workers would place themselves in the "not engaged" category, meaning they may be generally satisfied but are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace. While these employees may still be executing their duties, they’re likely not performing to the best of their ability and certainly not making a significant contribution to the purpose and culture of the organization.

In the same survey, Gallup estimated that disengaged employees cost the US Companies $450 to $550 billion in lost productivity per year. These numbers are staggering and have been the subject of many boardroom and executive discussions, as well as the source of many investigations into potential solutions to this truly corporate epidemic that quietly threats the core foundations of organizations around the world.

Did you know 53% of workers would place themselves in the "not engaged" category? Learn how you can use OKRs to boost engagement from @InspireSoftware:Tweet this!

The impact of disengaged employees is a significant business issue, and one many organizations are wrestling with and attempting to address through significant time and financial investments. Are you making the right investments to help boost employee engagement? While many companies have promoted themselves as “Best Places to Work,” and brought in ping-pong tables, video game consoles, or launched new rewards and recognition programs, those efforts may move the needle in a positive direction on engagement for a short period of time, but may not be sustaining engagement over time. It’s time for a more effective and permanent solution.

OKRs and Goal Alignment

Beyond the recruiting and retention perks, organizations need to reconsider the way they create meaning and purpose within their organization. The answer already lies within your organization today--inside the hearts and DNA of your people.

One of the areas discovered to be a great source of disengagement is the connection individual employees feel with the overall direction and strategy of the company that employs them. Researchers found that only 16% of front-line employees clearly understand the links between corporate priorities. Why is this a problem? If employees can’t see where they’re going, how are they supposed to care about getting there?

Setting Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for your organization as a whole gives employees full access to see where the company is going and how their contributions directly impact enterprise goals. Their efforts can be assessed and celebrated as they begin to understand how their efforts play out in the grand scheme of things. But employees can not understand how their passion for serving the organization makes an impact without a line of sight to the companies OKRs.

The transparency that comes with using OKRs throughout your organization allows employees to align their efforts with the larger end goal while recognizing their value and contribution to the company. By understanding corporate objectives, employees begin to see just how critical their goal-setting process is to company results and become more engaged in their contribution to helping the company achieve those objectives. In turn, inspiring and effective goals lead to lower turnover and overall better company culture.

Leading with OKRs

Organizational OKRs not only help everyone understand which tasks to prioritize, but OKRs are also a fundamental practice for any leader to operate from. Nearly every major leadership philosophy is built on the premise of having an effective goal setting process and is a critical starting point to initiate leadership.

Defining Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) at the organizational level sets into motion a process that helps influence engagement and productivity at individual and team levels within an organization. OKRs at a company level serve as the foundation for leaders at every level of an organization to roll up their sleeves and get to work implementing those corporate objectives through regular conversations and check-ins on individual and team progress toward goals that are aligned to the organizational OKRs.

Implementing #OKRs into your organizational structure allows employees to experience a sense of buy-in. Learn more from @InspireSoftware: Tweet this!

OKRs also help leaders shift their focus from outputs to outcomes. While outputs and deliverables are important to making progress, they often don’t tell the narrative that needs to be told in truly achieving the desired come. Activities can be completed without much need for question or understanding, but don’t explain whether the objective is being met. Discussions on outcomes are based on a series of achievements and discoveries that help everyone understand the why and how of the progress is being made toward the desired destination, not just what tasks people are doing to get there.

From a leadership perspective, OKRs give you an objective to continually assess performance during the pursuit of the objective, thus generating effective and engaging conversations about essential business outcomes, while also keeping track of progress on the outputs toward the achievement of the outcome.

Make OKRs the Foundation of Your Ongoing Conversations

Regular OKR check-ins between managers and employees ensure employees receive consistent guidance and support toward remaining optimally motivated and engaged in their roles and goals. It’s essential to clearly define what a successful outcome is when OKRs are set, so you’re able to continually assess performance toward the outcome during check-ins and talk about what still needs to be done to solve the business problem the goal addresses.

Assessing and Responding to the moment to moment needs of progress toward the objective generates valuable conversations between team leaders and individual contributors, across the organization, about the real challenges that threaten the achievement of the desired outcome. Ongoing discussions about progress on OKRs also creates an intentional opportunity to offer feedback and give recognition to individuals and teams about their performance toward important outcomes. Creating a culture of feedback and opening up the lines of communication allow employees to know they can look to the leadership team when they’re stuck or need help getting to a particular outcome.

When OKRs serve as the centerpiece for ongoing conversations about performance, individuals and teams are far more likely to remain engaged in the process of achieving their goals and have a sense of purpose because they can see the linear correlation between their contributions and the goals of the company. When individuals and teams become invested in a goal-setting process that is easy to understand, their intentions to perform at a high-level rise dramatically.

Whether you are using OKRs or some other Goal Setting method in your organization, setting goals can be a daunting and challenging task. Download our step-by-step approach to setting the right goals with real-life examples from leaders just like you in our Goal Guide white paper!