Organizational Fault-lines: Goal Setting & Goal Alignment

Goal Setting & Goal Alignment

Before we get into what types of goals you should set for your team and how to set them, we need to answer a couple of questions about the kind of goals you’re setting in general.
This is all about your organization’s goal setting culture. How do you set goals, what types of goals do you set, and how do you know what success of those goals looks like?

1. What types of goals are you setting as an organization?
Not every organization or even individual treats goals the same way.
But in order for you to work together and support the system that will get you there, everybody needs to know where the goal line is. In other words, when you set goals, are you setting goals that are:
1)     Moonshots (aka, pretty damn impossible to hit)
2)     Pretty hard (but you’ll hit them 70% of the time)
3)     Slightly more than your current skills and resources (80–95% chance you’ll hit them)
4)     A walk in the park (you’ll hit them with a 20-hour work week)

It might not seem important to know this right now, but think about this for a second: Let’s say Employee A thinks you’re setting goals that are in bucket D — nice and easy. While Employee B thinks you’re setting goals in Bucket B — pretty hard. When it’s time to check in and see how everyone has progressed, there’s going to be all sorts of issues and not nice words being thrown around.

To keep everyone on an even playing field, you need to know what the field looks like. Ultimately, your culture will determine this. So make a decision and communicate it until it becomes a part of your organization DNA.

2. What does success look like?
Goal hit = good. Goal missed = bad. Right?
Maybe. It depends. Just like you need to define what types of goals your organization is going after, you also need to know how you deal with meeting or missing those goals.
Here’s a few of the options you might pick, as explained by Pinterest BlackOps Manager, Marty Weiner:
1)     You MUST hit your goal!
2)     Strive hard to meet your goal. Big kudos if you do. Discuss what could have been better if you don’t.
3)     Goals are just guidelines. No big deal.
Just reading those out, you can probably see how not being on the same page could be more than a little awkward for your team. Communicating what success looks like helps keep your team aligned and motivated.
No one likes to feel like they failed. And there’s a big difference in the way you approach a problem (and its associated goal) if you think it’s a “MUST hit” versus just a guideline.

Goal setting exercise 3: Use OKRs to choose the right goals for your team
Now that you understand the playing field for how you’re setting goals:
1)     You know they need to relate to and support the organization’s vision
2)     You know what type of goals you’re setting
3)     You know what success looks like for them
The next step is to translate that organization vision into the actionable goals your team can work towards every single day.

A good method for doing this is to use OKRs — or, Objectives and Key Results.

First popularized by Intel CEO Andy Grove, OKRs have been used by major tech companies like Google, Amazon, Adobe, Dropbox, Slack, and more to align higher-level organization objectives with the results that each individual team member does to help get there.
In Grove’s famous manual High Output Management, he introduces the idea of OKRs by asking 2 questions:
  1. Where do I want to go?
  2. How will I know when I’m getting there?
Your Objective is the thing you’re working towards. It should be qualitative, inspirational, and tied to organization goals. Think something like: Make our homepage the best on-site experience. (As a general rule, Weiner and the leadership at Google suggest setting 3–5 personal OKRs for any given quarter. Any more and you have the potential to distract from what really needs to get done.)

Your Key Results are the metrics you need to keep track of to see if you’re making progress. A key result should be qualitative and specify a measurement window. For example, lower site load speed 50% in 1 month. You might have 2 or 3 Key Results for each Objective.
One of the main things to point out about OKRs is that they’re supposed to be difficult.
Your objective shouldn’t necessarily be something you can hit in a couple weeks or even a quarter without really killing it. Instead, a good rule of thumb is that “success” of an Objective is around 60–70% complete. This is also why it’s so important that you have a shared understanding of the types of goals you’re setting. If you have teams that are collaborating, they each need to expect that the other will only be hitting that 60–70% and act accordingly.

As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, describes them:
“OKRs are something you want to accomplish over a specific period of time that leans towards a stretch goal rather than a stated plan. It’s something where you want to create greater urgency, greater mindshare.”

For your team, this means setting goals as a team and then letting each individual set their own Objectives that will help move you closer to hitting those goals.

If you’re using Agile or Scrum project management, OKRs are still a great option. Not only do they ensure that you’re moving quickly and regularly re-assessing where you’re heading. But they help clarify what success is beyond just a product feature by tying it to a larger business goal.

This is where you really start to see how Objectives support your organization vision and goals.
While your mission, vision, and goals state the change you want your organization to make, Objectives are the devices used to measure the success or failure of those efforts.
So, if your objective needs to be measurable, the obvious question is: How do we measure it?

Goal setting exercise 4: Use MMOM metrics to measure your goal progress
There’s all sorts of ways you can track your progress on Objectives, but a good test is to meet the MMOM criteria (Meaningful, Measurable, Operational, Motivational).

Is your metric meaningful?
Your metric needs to contribute or relate to your business objective in some pretty obvious way. Or at least in a way that a lot of people can agree on. So, if your overall objective is to increase user experience on your site, it probably makes sense to track something like site load speed.
Where you’ll run into issues is when you have a metric that is closely related, but not perfect. As Pinterest’s  Manager Marty Weiner explains:
“Does ‘number of times content is flagged’ meaningfully measure bad experiences? Perhaps, but you’d prefer to know ‘number of times somebody has a bad experience’ (which can be impossible to measure).”

Is your metric measurable?
You should be able to measure your metric on a regular basis. Pretty basic, right? So, in our site load speed example, we can A/B test the time before and after changes to see if we’ve made a positive change.
Even if it feels like you can’t measure the metric, there’s probably a way you can. It may not be perfect, but starting with anything will help you push forward and look for better ways. Don’t throw out a metric just because it isn’t obviously measurable off the bat.

Is your metric operational?
How quickly can you see the effects of your change on your objective? Changing the background color of your homepage is highly operational. You can do it today and see if it makes a change in a couple hours. Measuring how many people are returning to your site after 30 days, isn’t quite as operational.
The faster your metric responds to changes you make, the faster you can iterate. However, this doesn’t just mean you should pick the highly operational ones. There’s a tradeoff that depends on their meaningfulness. It’s good to mix it up and include one highly operational one for your team, and, separately, one less operational one that’s more meaningful to the rest of the organization.

Is your metric motivational?
How much do you or your team actually want to move the needle on this metric? You’re working with people here, and people respond to motivation. If you know your team (or yourself), you should be able to say with some level of confidence whether or not this objective is motivational.

And if it’s not? Usually this can be remedied by tying the metric to some bigger goal or purpose (Remember, it all works together!) People are motivated by all sorts of different things: Mastery, prestige, challenge, snacks. Find what works for them and try to connect the metric to it.

Your metrics will dictate your timeline and when you check in on your progress
Setting ambitious goals and objectives (remember, OKRs should be difficult!) means you probably won’t hit them in the initial time frame you give yourself. So the question becomes how much can you move that metric in that moment?
Some metrics should cover the whole quarter, such as maintenance metrics. While some metrics, especially covering areas of fast improvement, could be unmotivational if the window is too long.

“Choose goals that you can track daily or weekly,” says Facebook’s Kelly Graziadei.
“You can only move as fast and change course as the speed of your feedback. Communicate about goals, progress, best practices, and wins early and often.”
A good rule of thumb is to look for metrics and key results that you can check in on after a minimum of two weeks. Any shorter and there’s usually too much noise.

Goal-setting exercise 5: Make sure team goals and individual career goals connect
To this point, we’ve only been talking about setting team goals for your  team. But on a personal level, effective goal-setting also addresses your team member’s individual trajectories.
We all want to do work that will bring us the things we crave: prestige, recognition, promotions. And treating individuals just like cogs in a machine means they’re going to go looking for something better.
“When you’re a technical manager, your job is mostly about humans,” says Jessica McKellar, co-founder of chat startup Zulip that was acquired by DropBox.
“There are two things you should always be thinking about: People’s day-to-day and their year-to-year.”
This could mean setting goals around learning or getting better at new programming languages and platforms. Or understanding a team member’s areas of interests, and making sure their day-to-day tasks line up with them.
You want to be leveling up everyone on your team all the time. Execution will follow.

What goal setting for  teams looks like in practice
Ok, let’s do a quick recap of everything before looking at some goal-setting examples for technical teams:
  • Step 1: Your organization needs a vision that goals are aligned with
  • Step 2: You need a clear culture of what types of goals you’re setting and what success looks like
  • Step 3: Your teams should set goals that connect to business objectives, not just product features
  • Step 4: Each individual is responsible for setting quarterly OKRs that are connected to team goals
  • Step 5: Each OKR needs Key Results that are measured by MMOM metrics
Goals cascade down from your organization vision, while OKRs are quicker, allowing you to change course and redefine team-level goals in an Agile way.
So, what does this all look like in practice?
Let’s say our team is responsible for a user-facing site like a blog or marketing page, and we want to improve the user experience.
  • Objective: Improve the performance of website
  • Key Result 1: Increase availability (aka uptime) of website measured over the last two weeks of the quarter from 97% to 99%
  • Key Result 2: Decrease site load time from 5 to 3.5 seconds
Our Objective of improving performance ties directly to our goal of creating a better user experience. While our Key Results address availability and performance/speed — two factors that directly tie into our Objective.

On top of that, our Key Results also tell a pretty good MMOM story.
They’re meaningful as they tie to our Objective and help us towards our ultimate goal of creating a better experience and bringing in more customers.

They’re also pretty easily measured as we have tools that can easily benchmark load time and availability and see how our improvements and optimizations are helping.

Operationally, the first Key Result is measured over a few weeks, which might be a little long. However, by adding in a second Key Result that isn’t measured over a longer period of time, your engineer has something to measure and iterate on quickly.

Lastly, site performance affects everything from conversion rates to SEO, so it’s a pretty motivational goal to work towards!

Goal setting is important for all parts of your business.
But when it comes to goal setting for your  team, you need to be especially diligent in your process. Goals are a great opportunity to create a shared vision. To push the purpose of your organization. And to challenge the talented team you’ve surrounded yourself with.
Make sure everyone knows how and why you’re setting goals. Tie individual goals and objectives to your organization vision. And make sure everyone has metrics that keep them motivated and inspired to work every single day.