You might have seen the announcement recently that Microsoft are to release a new Xbox later this year. This got me thinking because it will be the first generation of Xbox that I have not been involved with at all!
I joined Xbox in 2001 as the last member of the European team, three months before the release of the very first Xbox. During the 12 years that would follow, I would manage all three of the console generations. Including the launch of the current Xbox One.
Xbox has been such a big part of my career. I became reflective in thinking about my impact during my time at the company. How did I contribute to the near-20-year Xbox story? What about my impact at other companies I have worked for?
Though as I’m going to cover in this post, there’s more than one perspective to measuring your impact in the workplace. After all, Albert Einstein once famously said, “Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.”
How you go about looking at your objective matters a lot. Are you ready to take a holistic approach to measure your effectiveness? If so, here’s everything you need to know on how to measure your effectiveness in the workplace.
Why MBO are important and why you should embrace them
We’ve all had that email from HR or our line manager. It goes a little something like this...
“Dear employees, here is the timeline for objective setting, the tool online is open now”. It’s quite typical for the collective groans to be heard far and wide. We will go out of our way not to complete them in a timely manner. Instead, we sit in front of a tool like Success Factors agonising overwriting our objectives within the S.M.A.R.T. plan framework.
We literally would choose to do anything else but this. Especially if you consider that less than half of employers thought their employee evaluation systems were effective**. There is a level of contradiction at play here but it might be worth considering why they exist and to learn that MBO’s are not a new concept at all.
The term "Management by Objectives" first appeared in the 1954 book 'The Practice of Management' by Management Consultant, Peter Drucker. While the basic concepts of MBO were not original to Drucker, the systems he put in place drew on many of the ideas presented in Mary Parker Follett's 1926 work, "The Giving of Orders".
In it, she addresses issues of authority in business management, specifically how managers can gain influence over informal groups that naturally form in the workplace. She found that people respond better to ‘situations’ than to top-down orders. This means managers should give people the means and willingness to respond to particular situations instead of merely giving out demands.
In the present day, this translates as it being up to us to choose high impact, weighted objectives. It gives each of us a significant say in what we need to do and how we will go about doing it in the coming year. They will be your guide as at any time you are at risk of getting blown off course. Your objectives should evolve over the years to have a consolidated impact if you are in the same job. You should take them seriously.
And we all thought MBO was a modern-day thing!
It’s not just the 'what', it’s the 'how'
I was once ‘given’ my annual objectives by a Vice President I reported to. It was a four-point list of metrics to manage. It read like this:
- $xxx,xxx,xxx Revenue
- xx% Market share
- xx Average Selling Price
- No old stock in the warehouse at year-end
There was no rich discussion about the needs of the business or how I was going to add value within my role. I can hear Peter Drucker and Mary Parker Follett tut-tutting from up above.
My perspective on this particular situation and goal setting in general is:
1. Delivering broad-ranging financial results is a shared objective. You should not carry the whole weight of the company or divisional results on your own shoulders.
2. It’s not the what but the how you expect that employee to meet them.
As for the VP, I re-wrote them completely as a full MBO within the S.M.A.R.T. framework and sent them back, 24 hours later, they were approved, without any further discussion.
Agree upfront what good looks like
If you are given a task so vague, ambiguous or lacking funding, does your attainment have to be at 100% of everything for you to have a genuine impact? From experience, I’d say, it depends on the context and your starting point.
If your starting point is close to what you need to meet, then 100% is not unreasonable. But if you are starting out at 50%, then a measured view on attainment might be fairer. Especially if there’s a ton of moving parts and circumstances that are beyond your control. In this context, attainment could look like this:
- 100%+ Outstanding
- 90%-99% Full effective
- 80-89% Needs improvement
My advice would be to weigh out your objectives appropriately. You do not want 45% of your review to be based on a shaky project that might not happen or 100% on four company-wide KPI’s. In these scenarios, I have put a caveat on my objectives with a revised weighting if a certain condition is out of my control. Such as the funding gets pulled. Who has not been subjected to budget cuts?
Find the gap
Think about how you will meet your targets. Consider whether you should take the easiest way or find a gap in the organisation that you can have the highest impact.
Should I stuff the channel with stock, or should I practice great account management and become a trusted advisor to our partners? Either approach might get you to your targets, but which one to choose?
I tend to think in the latter and the reason for this is about doing the right thing and having a long term impact.
Multiple outcomes define your impact
We live in an outcome-based world, your manager and organisation are seeking specific results from you. Generally, your outcomes are the results in a given year, but what about looking at the longer view?
The median number of years that salaried workers have worked for their current employer is currently 4.6 years*. However, this longevity varies by age and occupation:
- The median tenure for workers aged 25 to 34 is 3.2 years
- The median tenure for employees aged 65 and over is 10.3 years
- Workers in management, professional, and related occupations had the highest median tenure (5.5 years)
- Workers in service occupations had the lowest median tenure (3.2 years)
So, if you are in the median of 4.6 years and you are likely moving jobs, how do you view your impact? How do you talk about it?
My advice would be to view it by project and by time. By project can be something you led or owned and what the results and impact to the business were. It should be a simple story that’s compact and contained.
By time is my favourite because it allows you to tell the full story of your impact, grounded in time and context. Let’s take a look at an example of impact by time in condensed form:
- [Time] Over a period of XX years.
- [Sales] The product sold 0-XXm units.
- [Contribution] 50% of the specific programs that sold units were conceived, planned and executed by me and my team.
- [Geography & Market Share] Resulting in sales/market share of XX in Y markets.
- [Legacy & Impact] The company is still executing against the strategy put in place, 7 years after I left the company.
Weave the facts around a narrative storytelling format and add context for a lasting impact that will tell anyone that you are more than the sum of this year’s KPIs’.
Communication across the organization
The best organization I ever worked for in this context was Microsoft. Each year, the key objectives would be set by the executives in the C-Suite, and these would trickle down the organisation. By the time it got to me, half of my objectives were their objectives. This ensured great alignment to the common and shared goals. The other half would be for me to write my own objectives in the context of my own role contributing to the shared goals.
I’ve been in organizations where there was no or little structure when it comes to setting your goals. This, in my experience, rarely works as who is to say what the final destination is? This way, you’ll all end up in different places!
As a people manager, I’ve found it constructive to communicate your final objectives to a broader set of stakeholders. Why? To give full awareness of what your focus areas are and so that you can explain your value delivery back to them.
It’s also key to use regular meetings, such as business reviews to give updates on progress. Stakeholders can hear about the work that’s going on under the hood as opposed to waiting for the final outcome, this way, you are more likely to get vested stakeholders along the way rather than critics at the end.
A holistic view across both measurement and development is key to measuring your impact in the workplace.
I can’t implore on you enough how important a multifaceted approach is. It sets the tone for everything you’ll do in the coming year or years ahead. Don’t take shortcuts in this process. No matter how laborious it might seem, your outcomes will combine to make up the sum of your impact.
This impact will not just be the pitch you make at review time with your line manager. After a median of 4.6 years, it might just be your best pitch for that new job you want.
I hope my experience and guidance will help you think about how to plan a lasting impact that will be of value to you and to the organisation you serve.
Stay safe. Be kind to one another.
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics*
- 2015 global talent management survey conducted by Willis Towers Watson**