Managing Performance – Our Take!


The OKR (objectives, key results) goal-setting approach has been around a number of years now. It’s often held up as to why Google and others are so successful, particularly when it comes to linking Company strategy and direction down to team and individual level. But it’s not a silver bullet and not without its issues. I’ve stumbled on a couple of clients recently struggling making it work and it strikes me that it falls short in a couple of areas:

Firstly, language doesn’t help as the words goals and objectives often mean the same thing in OKR and can confuse those who have been ‘taught’ alternative definitions. But more importantly is how OKR’s instruct you to approach the concept of Key Results and this is where it comes a cropper at the individual level. Key Results in OKRs can often be about ‘how’ we will achieve the objective - and this just doesn’t’ make sense! For example:

Objective: Raise our profile in the market via social media

Key Result: Post activity three times a week

Hmmm: I can post activities on social media three times a week but doesn’t mean that I will have any ‘success’ – Surely the Key Result here is about people liking, retweeting, sharing my content.

Results are the things that get a ‘well-done’! Posting updates alone isn’t enough to get me the ‘well-done’. So in OKR we default to spoon-feeding or micro managing the ‘how’ activities and tasks that people will do (and call these key results!) rather than articulating the results that they should really be achieving which attract and deserve credit.

Secondly, it can also be difficult to devolve things down from organisation level to individual. We know it’s the holy grail that each person sees their part and contribution to the bigger picture. But take the Receptionist in any organisation, for example. How do I take the strategic objective of retaining our customers and relate this down to an OKR in reception? We often default to the ‘continue to provide a welcoming environment’ stuff which is what they were already doing! Should we be trying to shoe-horn a link between individual OKRs and org strategy into every single role – and is that even always possible?

A more flexible one-size-fit-all approach is needed but however you design objectives the age old ‘what does success look like’ needs tangibly answering in plain-English each time. Be careful to describe results, not activities!


It is bad enough that our best/only advice to managers when talking about objective-setting is: Make it SMART! Just throwing a random acronym at people isn't that helpful and is probably why 80 per cent of objectives aren't.

But we also don't help by using templates and online systems that complicate and over-engineer the process. We simply need ONE BOX that captures the objective to include its measurable result and by when (or the latter can be a separate field if absolutely necessary). What we don't need are additional boxes and columns that force managers to decipher what on earth the following bits of corporate-speak also mean:

ALIGNMENT (saw that one too recently - nope, me neither!!)

All that then happens is that info captured gets duplicated across different fields and becomes a bureaucratic, form-filling exercise for a process most managers already actively avoid!

Let's - just- keep - it - simple


One of the things that strikes me as odd is the number of managers who have taken the extra salary to take on people management responsibilities but have then chosen to not really do what comes with that part of the job or just do not have the skill. I come across people every week who never really sit down for 121s with their people outside of mandated appraisals or don't really do much to inspire or help anyone develop in any meaningful or targeted way.

It’s also interesting to note that when you look at the CV’s of those who were in people management positions, the wording is always very generic rather than focusing on any actual people achievements:

‘Managed a large team’, ‘increased the team to six people’, ‘motivated the team to exceed targets’ are lovely statements but you’d find them on any number of CV’s! What does it all actually mean? In other cases there are people who may have a job description that effectively puts the people management bit of the job at, say, 30% or more of the role - so you would perhaps expect 30% of their achievements to be people related - and often they aren't!

Answering employee questions, signing off holiday/expense forms and delegating tasks is very low-level managing on a basic admin level but often is what some managers are calling 'management'. The focus needs to instead be on how you as manager helped grow the person's capability, how you helped them improve performance, how you inspired them to do what?

It should primarily be about the 'but for' test - 'But for me this team member would not have...?'. Management skill, as we know, does not come easy to all Managers. And it is a skill and at its worst execution leads to awful morale, people leaving every two minutes, grievances, tribunals and rubbish productivity. Many people will have 'a go at managing' or 'have a go at interviewing applicants' without any real training and wonder why things aren't going as they should. "It's easy, it's just people stuff" is a common response but if it was all so easy wouldn't everyone be actually doing it? Some questions to ask ourselves next time we are thinking about management recruitment/succession:

1) Why does this person want to manage? - is it just about money or is it the only way to progress their career? What's the primary motivation?

2) Do you really want this person in a people management role with all the risks that go with this?

3) Have they shown flashes of brilliance when it comes to how they relate to and deal with others? Is there a way of getting them to perhaps mentor/look after just one person for a while to see how they get on in a lower-risk way?

4) Do they already have lots of credibility and respect around the office? Not everyone can be a software developer, a management accountant or a surgeon - and not everyone can be a manager.