How to be in control without ever needing to be controlling

How we manage and how we want to be managed has been going through a revolution. The top-down autocracy, characterised by managers that use fear and/or micromanagement to direct is being replaced with trust, empowerment and autonomy.

Because of this change, managers are being asked to not just get results but also coach and develop individuals in a way that aligns with the company and works for each individual as well –  the essence of performance management.

Safety first

Companies are also having to look at the cultural values and behaviours that would support a more engaged and empowered workforce. A good example of this is ‘psychological safety’ , the belief that the workplace is safe for ‘speaking up’. Your voice will be heard, ideas welcome, and mistakes won’t be punished and even conflict is not avoided but made safe. This idea alone has been linked to hyper-performing teams at Google.

Goal clarity

The other aspect of what makes trust and empowerment possible is how you choose to set goals. This is where popular goals setting frameworks like Objectives and Key Results (OKR) take center stage. The basic premise of OKR is that you can take your strategy to create annual company objectives with clear measurable outcomes. For example, take this annual goal:

Objective:                  Create an amazing customer experience

As measured by:         Increase our Customer Satisfaction Score from 67% to 90%

As measured by:         Increase average customer order frequency to 12 times a year from 4

Teams would be asked to consider objectives and measurements – called Key Results, that would align with this, and in doing so explore reasons where the Customer Experience might fall short. For example, you might find a big issue is the items customers want aren’t always in stock. So the team proposes an ambitious quarterly OKR to address this that aligns:

Objective:                  Create an amazing customer experience

Key Result:                 Reduce ‘Out Of Stock’ items to 1% from 6%

Key Result:                 Keep ‘time in warehouse’ for all items to under 14 days

The OKR uses Key Results that ‘balance’ to improve the quality of Objective. You can’t just buy more stock to solve the issue, you need to keep stock turning over so capital is not sat there unsold for long.

The activities or Initiatives that would deliver these improvements are planned and executed and progress updated weekly, and any problems shared, in addition to new ideas to hit the goal. These might include:

  • Evolving the control process
  • Agreeing SLA’s with suppliers
  • Replacing supplier that can’t deliver just-in-time

Which is where ‘safety’ comes back in. To make OKRs work it had to be safe to set hard goals, where failure would not be punished, it had to be normal to speak up, share problems as well as your best ideas.

Control without being controlling

The aim for business leaders is to ensure management, managers and employees have:

  • Safety – Everyone has been involved and heard, and has set the bar high.
  • Goal Clarity – Outside the business-as-usual, everyone knows what the priority areas of improvement were. Which also means that everything is not a priority. The more you focus on improving the less you achieve.
  • Empowered Agility – Weekly meetings where plans and problems are shared, and managers are supporting reports to achieve, not micromanaging goal achievement.
  • Visibility & Accountability – Everyone can see goals, roles and plans, along with progress, problems and wins in software like ZOKRI.

This then means there is no need to constantly check up on people and be controlling, you’re in control. It’s how the best and fastest-growing companies in the world do it, and it’s a way of building a company anyone can implement with ease. You just have to commit to the change. If you want to know more about OKRs, here’s a handy OKR guide.

Matt Roberts is the founder of OKR Software ZOKRI and has a mission to share the benefits of OKRs, agility, empowerment and accountability.