Bathroom Communications and the Rise of the OKR Platform

By Anna Donnelly, Services Product Manager

At one point in my career, I managed an office of about 500 people. Most were field workers who were, on average, in the office two days a month. We had the technology for direct electronic communications — yet it was memos in break rooms and on the backs of the bathroom stall doors that were preferred by leadership (who were in the office every day) as the best way to get information to employees. This was thought to be effective, but in reality, they were hardly seen by employees. The approach then evolved into a newsletter that many in the office regularly scrambled to assemble. Again, the average employee only visited the office a couple of times a month. You can imagine how effective it really was.

It frustrated me that we spent so much effort and money on our corporate intranet, Blackberry smartphone devices that were primarily used for phone calls (who remembers the aughts?), and carefully crafted emails that went unread. However, communicating effectively with a distributed workforce was difficult, so we met the need in any way we could — even if its efficacy was questionable.

Engaging a distributed workforce with fragmented attention

Technology has come a long way since the days of Blackberry smartphones and the odd office communication quirk, but the problem of engaging a distributed workforce effectively has become even more complicated. Our attention is more fragmented than ever. In fact, one study indicated that the average employee toggles between apps and websites more than 3,600 times a day. It’s not just that people are distributed and don’t read emails or take time to look at the intranet. It’s that there is so much competition for our attention that important information gets lost in the chaos. On top of that, modern ways of communicating have not kept up with the pace of employee expectations.

Lessons from “Lost” and the power of purpose

Microsoft Viva contains a wealth of tools that improve communications, but this is not a plea for reimagined corporate communications. For that, see my last article. Some information is too important to get lost in the never-ending stream of information thrown at us — like organizational goals and key initiatives.

Studies show that tying overall organizational goals and initiatives to team and individual performance is important for employee engagement and satisfaction. I offer an analogy to this point. In the TV show “Lost,” Desmond, isolated for many years, would wake up and simply press a button at the same time every day because he was told if he did not, the world would end. Can you imagine anyone in isolation feeling any sense of purpose pressing a button without the knowledge of what would happen if they failed their mission?

Keeping that in mind, pause for a moment and think about your organization’s goals. Can you list three of the strategic priorities in your organization? If you can’t, it’s OK — in a Gallup study on why company strategy fails, only 13% of employees strongly agreed that their leadership communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. An unclear purpose means employees don’t know why they are “pressing the button.”

What causes these problems?

Part of this lack of awareness comes down to how this information is communicated. As it stands today, many of us are operating with the digital equivalent of the break room/bathroom stall memo approach — an assumption that people are consuming information that’s both relevant and accessible. In reality, a lack of visibility and true insights persists.

An overproliferation of tools may also be a contributing factor. According to a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Microsoft in March 2022, “Employees feel like there are too many tools and not enough focus on adoption.” The study found that “34% of EX business leaders said that their organizations have invested in six or more tools to meet their EX goals.” The way I see it, leaders are frequently sitting on this information in fragments, reported from various places and then summarized for audiences that might never be reached.

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) platform benefits

Enter the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) platform. Many OKR platforms unify organizational goals under a single solution. One such platform is Viva Goals. What I like about Viva Goals is that it’s not only a single place to record and track goals and initiatives using an OKR framework — it’s also embedded and very visible throughout the Microsoft 365 productivity apps employees use every day.

Imagine you’re a leader on a cross-functional Teams call with several unfamiliar employees. Instead of asking everyone to go around and share basic information about themselves, you open their contact card to see what they’re working on and how they’re contributing to your organization’s bottom line. Now imagine you are an employee on this call and how it would feel to have a leader acknowledge the specific contributions you are making to the success of the business. Microsoft Viva Goals and its companion, People in Viva, make this possible.

What’s especially attractive about Viva Goals is that this information can be curated and updated via integrations with platforms already being used in your organization. Progress is automatically updated in Viva Goals, and your people can continue using the apps they prefer, such as Power BI, Jira, DevOps, and more. Helping your employees understand that they aren’t just “pushing a button” then becomes a simple adoption exercise.

If you’re interested in learning more about employee experience with Microsoft Viva, contact us to hear from our experts.