Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), which are one of the main tools used to manage performance at companies like Intel, Google, and other tech giants. Just in case you haven’t heard of them, I’ll provide a short explanation of what these are.
Objectives and Key Results 101
OKRs (also related to the S.M.A.R.T system) are a system where every employee in the organization determines several objectives (usually between 3 to 5) for the upcoming quarter. These should always be measurable and quantifiable, so we’re not talking about “making our product better”. Instead, it should be something like “Grow our product user base by 11%”. The objectives should always be ones that push the envelope just a bit, so that fulfilling 60%-70% can be expected. If someone is fulfilling their objectives at a rate of 100% quarter over quarter, they must not be setting ambitious enough goals. OKRs are set at the beginning of every quarter and reviewed and graded at the end of every quarter. Interestingly, OKRs are also completely transparent, so that every employee in the organization can see what every other employee is working on and setting as a priority. OKRs are a system that aligns corporate goals with actual performance.
Gamification is to the workforce what OKR’s are to knowledge workers
OKRs are there for knowledge workers – product managers, developers, communications managers, operations people etc. OKRs simplifyy goal setting, communication and tracking completion. They are also part of a culture that fosters transparency, since everyone can see everyone else’s OKRs. In essence, OKRs require employees to ask themselves what their tasks should be, they ask them to prioritize those tasks, and after a period of time they create a system where employees go over the goals they set and reflect on their performance.
Gamification has the same results for rank and file employees – the workforce. Looking at gamification, it is easy to see how the different game mechanics offer a similar experience. Gamification allows managers to easily communicate what the next tasks and goals should be for every employee; it also sets expectations for learning and for performance. Gamification lets see how they are doing in comparison to their fellow colleagues, and in what fields they are performing better or worse than those colleagues. Gamification mechanics offer constant, real-time feedback so that employees always know where they stand and can improve as soon as they realize that there is an area where they are under-performing under par. In many ways, gamification is like OKRs, but on a much shorter timeframe and at a much lower cost in time and attention. The performance KPIs are pre-set (they can be changed, of course)
Research has shown that using OKR’s can increase productivity (in this case, sales per hour) by up to 8.5%, similarly, different use cases have shown that gamification can create dramatic changes in a companies’ engagement, productivity, and even revenue. The bottom line seems to be that the simple acts of setting goals, prioritizing, defining what they key measurement metrics are going to be and then making sure to actually measure and follow up on all those goals and metrics, makes a huge difference in productivity at the workplace. Mixing that with game mechanics can do wonders for engagement.