Prevent (and resolve) conflict with rocks

Worksplace conflict prevention through goal settingBy Barbara du Preez-Ulmi. Are you tapping in the dark when trying to assess what works, and what doesn’t? Do you have a joint, transparent road-map or is there a black blotch where there’s supposed to be a plan?  Paint a wall black. (Feel free to paint it in the shape of the proverbial elephant in the room, or a boring square like mine below). Then add your goals, and every employee’s, to it.

One of the key areas where conflict arises in a work environment is where there is no clear direction. No joint goals to achieve. Where an employee or a team has no idea what they must work towards. This not just to measure their own progress, and to have a purpose. But also – how do you achieve growth as a business or organisation if you don’t define what growth means to you? And I mean, in black on white. Not just a vision and a meek mission statement. If nobody knows what they are working towards, you invite lethargy, antagonistic behaviour, and team disruption; you’ll land up with people who over-achieve (and in turn are often disliked for it), and those that swap their office chair for a slouch-couch (which can also invoke feelings of anger by others).

The trick is to not only have company goals, and to measure your success with the help of precise annual KPIs (key performance indicators), but to do the following:

  1. Have two or three key goals to achieve, no more;
  2. Make your company or organisation’s goals visible to everybody in the workplace;
  3. Discuss them with everyone and explain why you chose them as top goals;
  4. Get your team leaders, unit or department managers to create goals that feed into achieving your company-wide goals;
  5. Motivate every employee to create their own goals which in turn feed into the team’s or department’s goals.
  6. Make them visible. You may capture them via a jointly accessible charting software such as Lucidchart, an interactive Google spreadsheet/document, or you may paint them onto a big blackboard (it all depends on how many people there are, and how big your walls are!)

How to create challenging goals for everyone

Notice that I put emphasis on motivating everyone to create their own goals. It’s a known fact that if you participate in a process, you are more likely to make it your own. I remember that from when I wished for a bicycle as a young girl and my mother cut a deal with me: I’ll have to do household chores to get pocket money and chip in to the purchase; this way, she made sure I’d also take care of it. And I did – I clean a bicycle like no-one else!. What resonates with this philosophy is the OKR principle made popular by John Doerr, and which Google has been using successfully. OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results.

The principle of OKRs – or how to use rocks and pebbles to avoid conflict

The idea is for everyone to come up with 3-5 objectives that they’d like to achieve within a certain time frame. I find that quarterly objectives work best as it gives everyone a more regular sense of achievement. For each objective, everyone comes up with 3-5 key results (or stepping stones) that will help them reach the objective (goal). And since it would be against the nature of progress and growth, these objectives don’t have to be reached by 100%. On the contrary, if 60% of them are reached, that’s success to celebrate, as it leaves room for further improvement – but also, since most objectives are not isolated, but feed into someone else’s objectives, or the team’s, and ultimately, the company’s – and wherever there is inter-dependency, we need to apply a non-final mind to things.

You may also call your objectives “rocks”, and the key results, “pebbles”. It’s about whatever works for you and whatever fits in with your workplace culture and terminology.

Here an example from the world of a small creative agency:

Business goal:

Increase leads from the UK so to meet quarterly projected turnover.

Marketing team-level OKR:

  • Objective: Generate 30% more marketing qualified leads from Scandinavia targeting our key persona in the health industry by 31 March 2017
  • Key results: 1) Generate 800 visitors per month from Scandinavia
    2)Generate 20 marketing qualified leads from Scandinavia per month
    3)Generate 10 sales qualified leads from Scandinavia per month

One individual marketer’s OKR:

  • Objective: Increase qualified and geographically targeted referral traffic by 30
  • Key results: 1) List the company on at least 3 reputable target location-focused review sites; 2)Publish at least 5 bylines to top Scandinavian 3d party sites that are frequented by the target market, generating at least 500 views each (SEO link building); 3)Add a “powered by” referral link to every Scandinavian client website that is managed by the agency

Sharing, discussing and assessing

The key to creating a happy, growing company or organisation is to regularly share progress; to discuss all the “rocks” or objectives, to ask for assistance where needed, and to assess them against over-arching goals. Stay agile, stay flexible, work together. Make sure these goals are created by the employee, discussed and signed off by the manager (some staff members need more help with creating them, others less), and that everyone is aware of everybody else’s goals. This creates collaboration, and a joint sense of purpose.


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