The new year is when we set personal resolutions and goals—read more, finally begin meditating. But at work, we usually leave prioritization and goal-setting to our leaders. We rely on leadership and managers to tell us what our goals should be.
This creates a notable imbalance, especially because work, whether we’re going to the office or simply powering up our laptops from home, is where we spend the majority of our time. We may take the reins on what we want to change and how we’ll do it in our personal lives, but in our professional lives, we often leave most of the say to the organizations we work for. We need to apply the same motivation to our work goals, and this starts with aligning with leaders on what priorities we need to address.
Here’s what’s wrong what’s wrong with conventional goal-setting, and what you can do to make you work goals stick in the new year.
WHAT’S MISSING FROM GOAL-SETTING
One pitfall for many of us when setting work goals is focusing on what we will do (our output) rather than what we will achieve (our ideal outcome). For instance, we make our goal “Complete the Community launch project,” a meaty task to be checked off our to-do list, rather than “Create the world’s most engaged HR community,” an ambitious goal with tangible impact.
We also often miss the “why.” You want to publish more product blogs this year—why? Is it to educate customers, improve your communication? You want to launch a community—why? To engage your customer base, reach new audiences, expand revenue from current customers?
Another common hurdle is alignment. Hybrid work has caused a disconnect between employers and employees. One survey found that 87% of employees say they’re productive at work, but only 12% of leaders have confidence that’s true. Amid economic uncertainty, many employees are under more pressure to deliver results, with fewer resources. This makes it more vital than ever that your individual priorities as an employee align with your organization’s priorities.
And perhaps the most common pitfall employees face in setting work goals is taking the time to set goals at the beginning of a time period—but never checking in with them again. We get so caught up in the daily whirlwind of work that we lose sight of our overarching goals that map back to organizational priorities.
We have more power than we think on the impact we want to have. We just have to use the right tools to get clarity of the goals and alignment with our managers. For me, that’s the objectives and key results (OKR) framework.
Here’s how to set goals that stick.
START WITH WHAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH
Your objective is what you want to accomplish. It’s the destination on your map, but the destination shouldn’t be your local grocery store—it’s the vacation destination of your dreams. This objective should be ambitious and exciting, making you smile and not quite believe you’re aiming so high. For example, “Create dramatically high usage for the product” is a clear outcome that helps you map out what you’re trying to achieve with intention.
GET CLEAR ON WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE
Your key results are your metrics of success. They are measurable: as in percentage increase, a metric, or sometimes even yes or no. These can be objectively measured and act as the mile markers, the signals, that tell you you’re headed in the right direction. Track progress on these key results regularly. For example, a key result for “Create dramatically high usage for the product” might be “Drive 10% monthly active user increase by the end of the quarter.”
OUTLINE WHAT YOU WILL DO TO REACH YOUR OKRS
Your Initiatives are the work you do to reach your goal. These are the miles you rack up on your trip. For example, an initiative for “Create dramatically high usage for the product” might be “Deliver four key items from the product roadmap.”
Now you know where you want to go, how you will know you are getting there, and the work you will do to get there:
– Objective: Create dramatically high usage for the product
– Key result: Drive 10% user increase by end of the quarter
– Initiative: Deliver four key items from the product roadmap
MAP INDIVIDUAL GOALS TO BUSINESS GOALS
Your OKRs need to consider the broader context of your organization’s goals to make sure you’re orienting in the right direction. First, ask yourself: “What are my organization’s top three to five priorities? What are my team’s top three to five priorities?” Then, ask yourself: “How can I frame and refine my goals so that the connection between my priorities and those of my organization and team are clear?”
CORE VALUES OF OKRS: GROWTH MINDSET, FOCUS, AND CHECKING IN
As a long-time OKR believer, I have found that there are several factors that can supercharge your goal-setting, no matter what industry, level or role you’re in.
First, set goals with a growth mindset. Achieving your goals is ideal, but where OKRs really shine is by encouraging you to set lofty goals and reflect deeply when you don’t hit them, so you can take those lessons into the next time period.
Next, focus on no more than three to five OKRs. Knowing what not to focus on is just as important as knowing what to focus on. A core value of OKRs is getting laser focused and making sure the teams you work with are aligned to that focus.
Finally, create rituals which encourage personal accountability. If you “set it and forget it” with OKRs, you are missing the point. Create regular weekly and monthly check-ins to keep tabs on progress and adjust as you go along. Add goals as an agenda item on your 1:1 with your manager. You’ve done the hard work of putting together clear, concrete goals which align to your organization’s—now it’s time to execute.
Vetri Vellore is a corporate vice president at Microsoft responsible for Microsoft Viva Goals, a business goal-setting, and management app. Vetri is also the author of OKRs for All: Making Objectives and Key Results Work for Your Entire Organization.