• Christa Dhimo, Impono LLC

The Every-Business Series: Managing by Ugh-jectives...


In answer to our Impono Followers asking for guidance on "every-day matters," like how to get started with a new business, growing a bootstrapped small business, and paths to generate or augment funds, we created "The Every-Business Series," a short-read series created specifically for Impono's followers. Keep your feedback coming so we can be sure to continue addressing your questions!!

Premise: Managing by Objectives... So Old School?

Objectives are so 80s... and 90s... and 00s... and come to think of it, talked about nearly every day and often the basis of discussion for the future. Tedious, a typified act of corporate lip-service, flanked by half-hearted performance reviews and included in exhausting "strategy sessions," who doesn't recoil at the thought of creating and then managing by objectives-- especially in the free space of entrepreneurship or the nimble atmosphere of a small business?

But hey... wait a second. If execution is a challenge in all organizations (and it is), then we must attribute that to blurry objectives or at the very least, a blurry mix-message respect for following through with committing to the right work and measures of that work, including how you change them when it makes best business sense to do so.

For that reason, many companies-- especially start-ups-- have embraced the next gen evolution from Managing by Objectives: Objectives and Key Results, or "OKR," because of course we need the acronym.

Below are two points and one real-world example to get real about the importance of objectives-- in some form-- in order to meet or exceed your corporate goals.

(hang with us, we promise we'll make this fun...)

Point #1: Managing by Objectives (and OKR is starting to get the taint too) is a Punch Line Until No One is Laughing Anymore.

Our amazing clients are start-ups and small businesses of all kinds. We've seen a pattern emerge: those coming form larger companies view OKRs or Managing by Objectives as "too corporate," and serial entrepreneurs either manage by OKRs or have never known about it and just get the work done in early days as best they know.

If you are the type to hear circus music in your head followed by a symbol crash every time you hear "manage by objectives," consider this:

Objectives guide a company's decisions. They also test out your strategy and enable you to adjust as needed, AND they keep everyone on track, especially during a high-growth start-up phase or a strat-shift phase of a small business.

When work needs to shift, you want the work your employees are doing to shift, too, and easily.

By the way, that can happen even when you have an objectives process in place. Read on...

Real-World Example: Spotify Dropped Their OKR Process and Developed a Better Fit for Spotify [to manage their objectives...]

Many tech companies have embraced the OKR method in order to provide short-term "sprints" toward high-growth goals. Some companies use a typical OKR alignment method quite well.

Five years ago, Spotify stopped using OKRs for individuals.

Hats off to Spotify for examining whether their OKR process was really doing what it was intended to do: align resources to corporate goals, assure the right work at the right standard at the right time, and enable a value-added process vs slow down the very work needing to get done.

(AND!!! Spotify actually has an HR Blog-- how cool is THAT??)

Johanna Bolin Tingvall, the Global Head of Greenhouse - Learning & Development at Spotify, posted a very concisely recognizes the value of OKR and then provide three ways OKR wasn't serving Spotify in the way OKRs should.

Or in her words: "We are into objectives and priorities and data and making sure everyone is moving in the same direction just as much as the next tech company is. But there were three main reasons why OKRs on an individual level were not doing all that for us..."

Here's the important, real-world example: instead of proclaiming a process as "too corporate" or "not value-adding," Spotify worked out what would work best for them.

The Debrief: The Power of Work Confidence

When we at Impono say "Work Confidence", we mean that strong sense of purpose and commitment each employee feels (all the way up to the top) because they know they aren't wasting their time. The work they do is meaningful, it fortifies the strategy, and it contributes to the overall goals. Here's the bonus: employees also know they are empowered to do the right work at the right time in the right way.

When you have appropriate and common structure associated to the work you and your employees do, you leave very little to chance or guess-work. At least some of the work is more predictable, even in the most unpredictable stages of start-ups. (Fact: Even entrepreneurs rarely thrive in a carefree and uncertain environment, certainly not after achieving funding and being required to hit specific milestones)

The whole point of OKRs or Managing by Objective, or whatever process you want to call it, is to assure employees are held accountable for achieving results from work that actually matters (NOT achieving results that matter, but achieving results from work that matters).

By managing this way, you have an opportunity to be clear and planful about where you put your time, what you expect to achieve, and when you need to revisit-- the same goes for your employees. You and your employees also have the means to consider where you want to develop and grow, AND it takes care of those pesky metrics for you (when you use a simple process, this is an easier roll-up than most think it is).

Your Founder's Action

We at Impono have no issue with throwing away the OKR or Manage-by-Objective practice, as long as you find an effective replacement-fit where employees can discuss and agree to what they should be working on and why, what success in that effort looks like as they perform and after it is complete, and what they can expect if they achieve or do not achieve performance.

There are many options for how you set an example for and then manage your and your team's objectives: figure out which one works that is scalable, and go for it. The important point is that the team is doing the right work the right way at the right time.

Additional tip: Include guidance on when and how your employees should discuss any concerns, including whether they think their efforts should shift. Truly, if you're a word person and you simply don't like the "Objectives" thing-- change it. But please please please keep the importance of getting the right work done at the right time in the right way as a critical tenant to your organization's success. It's OK to be bare-bones about it, it's not OK to have nothing in place at all.

Point #2 and BOTTOM LINE: Put Your "Too Corporate" speak away and stop being so particular (sheesh...)

There are only a few universal actions most start-up (or even larger company) leaders do that kill momentum and employee engagement: engaging in word-battles to personally brand a general business process is one of them.

At Impono, we know the value of language. Our best example is our name. Culture, norms, brand, power of team, and mission can all be linked and strengthened with the right use of language. And so, we're not debating the value of specific language-- quite the opposite. We're debating the value of specific language when there's clearly no meaningful link to your company's (and employee's) performance.

Examples we have heard:

"We say our People, not our Talent" (says the CEO who didn't hire an HR leader until the company was 10 years old as the group we were in front of hid their rolling eyes...)

"We call it Data Crunching, not Analytics" (says the President who has never run an Analytics effort in his life as the Analytics group feels reduced to the label of "data crunchers," knowing Analytics is so much more than "crunching"...)

"We call them Professional Focus Points not Individual Objectives" (says the CEO who wants to pretend he or she created something new by changing the name...)

Fine. We get it. You want to make it your own. And we're equally certain you would have the same reaction as your employees if you were in their shoes hearing these syntactical battles from the CEO, knowing where it's coming from.

In the name of this post, though, we're going to call it as we see it: Objectives are required to get good work done right the first time and on time. If you must be particular about what they are called, please just be sure they meet the same intent.

All for now...

We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.

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