Enabling Both Accountability and Flexibility in Performance Management 

Aug 23, 2022

By Gracie Koester

There is a critical balancing act an organization must achieve in order to enable strategic execution. 

If OKRs are critical and exciting goals, then shouldn’t it follow that they are the basis for an individual’s performance management? This is a presumption and a question that can stymie an effective OKR implementation. 

OKRs are an agile framework used to navigate and succeed in a continually changing environment. Yet, when it comes to individual performance, goals are often static. Herein lies the disconnect – and a critical reason many organizations don’t succeed with OKRs. 

At the individual level, responsibility is primarily in executing on tasks (which don’t make for good Key Results) versus responsibility for outcomes (which are often achieved by teams and do make for good KRs). This is why OKRs are not well-suited for individual performance management. 

That, then, begs the question of how to effectively align and manage goals at the individual level. There are two critical elements. Accountability and flexibility are seemingly conflicting but actually complementary elements of a robust performance management approach. 

THE PROBLEM

Performance goals are set and revisited too infrequently, setting up the situation where employees are motivated to hold fast to specific tasks or projects, even when changes might indicate a revised approach or necessitate a significant shift. 

THE NEED

Organizations today must employ the muscle of strategic agility, continually sensing and responding to disruption and opportunity. Yet, when individual goals aren’t flexible, it leads to overload. When new needs arise, the default becomes “yes and”: employees must continue doing what was previously on their plate and add the new stuff. This overload leads to burnout as well as delayed execution on the most critical work. 

BUT THEN

The fear many leaders harbor is that, if goals aren’t written in stone, there is no accountability. Not only does this miss the fact that we live in a fast-changing world, it also negates learning and innovation. Designing systems that presume a static environment signals that you don’t value agility.   

Moreover, renegotiating agreements is a necessary and ever-present component of commitment management. Commitment management is the conversational practice in which all parties to an agreement define standards of completion, maintain two-way feedback, and negotiate required changes. 

Therefore, the definition of accountability is not that you do what you previously said at all costs, but that you keep in communication about progress, blockers, and ideas about how you might achieve results in a better way. 

A TWO-WAY STREET

The imperative, then, is that a performance management approach supports both accountability – as defined by a cycle of agreement, negotiation, and feedback – and flexibility. Thus, you are embedding rigor, coordination, and innovation within your culture. That is a combination that will propel an organization’s growth and impact. 

Nailing this balancing act is a critical one in order for an organization to be set up for success at the strategic as well as individual level. 

NEVER STRUGGLE ALONE

If you’re wondering how your approach stacks up, or need help reimagining your performance management process, reach out. We’ve helped many organizations create more powerful alignment, engagement, and results.

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Agile Strategies is a boutique OKR consultancy based in Boulder, Colorado. We’ve researched, tested, and integrated the best strategy management tools to help you build and sustain an agile business. We help leaders become more agile so they can stay focused achieving their vision.

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