Managers have productivity paranoia. Here are 5 steps to better align your team


By Vetri Vellore

A new year means new personal and professional goals. 2023 is here, and it’s a natural time to reflect on what defines you as a leader—what’s working and what’s not.

The best gift you can give your business and team as we move into 2023 is clarity on why their work matters to customers and business, how to measure success, and what to prioritize to maximum impact.

This is no small task, as leaders try to motivate and inspire resilient teams in an era of hybrid work and amid economic uncertainty. Many managers have become paranoid about productivity but fortunately, there are steps that they can take to better align with their team and with what matters most. 

Hybrid Work and Productivity Paranoia

Hybrid work has caused a disconnect among employees and managers around what constitutes productivity. According to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index Pulse Report, 87% of employees report they are productive at work, but 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that their employees are being productive.

To put it bluntly, many employees feel like they are working harder than ever, but most leaders aren’t so sure. Microsoft calls this phenomenon “productivity paranoia.” I think both sides are right: Employees are working harder than ever, but they may not be working on the right initiatives that would best help their teams and that would best demonstrate their efforts. This means that leaders aren’t seeing the impact and feel disappointed.

It’s the responsibility of leadership to provide guidance and clarity to their teams. And that’s what employees are telling us they want—81% of employees say it’s important that their managers help them prioritize their workload, though only one-third receive this guidance.

Managers may not be equipped to provide the right support for their teams because often they themselves are not sure of what the biggest priorities of the organization are, and need clarity from senior leadership. About 80% of managers say they’d personally benefit from more clarity from senior leadership on impactful priorities.

Overcoming Challenges with Clear Goals and Alignment

Setting clear priorities and goals can help bridge these gaps between leaders and employees. It helps everyone focus on impact, not activity. It also helps employees understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, letting them stay focused on purpose versus getting lost in the daily whirlwind.

Over the course of my career, I’ve helped thousands of leaders and teams leverage a goal-setting framework. Here are my top tips to set and communicate goals while making sure they are both sustainable and effective: 

1. Leverage OKRs as a framework. OKRs stand for Objectives (what you want to achieve) and Key Results (how you will measure success). Your OKRs are supported by your initiatives, showing team members how they contribute to OKRs at the team, department, and organization levels. This framework keeps everyone speaking the same language and understanding the role they play in your collective success. If you’re new to OKRs, it’s best to start small via a pilot program, ideally with your leadership team.

Managers have productivity paranoia. Here are 5 steps to better align your team

2. Democratize goal setting for everyone. A key misconception with having goals and OKRs is that they’re only useful for company leadership. To truly maximize the effect of OKRs, enable everyone in the organization to see and understand the top-level OKRs, and use it as a tool to help people figure out what they can contribute. This empowers employees and unlocks motivation.

3. Set stretch goals. To drive a strong business-performance-and-growth mindset, the sweet spot for objectives is to make them slightly out of reach. Success is when people can achieve 70% to 80% of the objective. It is important to recognize and celebrate progress and learnings. Success shouldn’t be defined as hitting the objective 100% or 110%, but instead as a learning opportunity to keep improving.

4. Decide what not to do. A core value of OKRs is that they help you focus on three to five priorities at the organization, department, team, and individual levels. It’s just as important to align on what you will not do as what you will focus on and achieve, since this laser focus increases the likelihood of achieving your set goals.

5. Bring goals into your existing business rhythms. Frequent check-ins help leaders keep a pulse on the health of their goals, uncover roadblocks, and increase both autonomy and accountability. Weave goals into existing meetings and check-ins like team-level meetings, manager 1:1s, and company-wide meetings. 

An effective goal-setting strategy at work is like developing muscle or a habit. In 2023, it’s more important than ever for leaders to create a culture that’s so aligned and full of purpose, every employee comes to work understanding their “why”—no matter where they are signing on from.

Vetri Vellore is a corporate vice president at Microsoft, responsible for Microsoft Viva Goals, a business goal-setting and management app. Vellore is also the author of OKRs for All: Making Objectives and Key Results Work for Your Entire Organization.

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