Leveraging OKRs in the face of Malaysia’s ‘Great Resignation’
If employers wish to successfully keep their skilled staff, they need to be able to adapt to their changing needs. Here’s how OKRs can help
With the ongoing MCO or Movement Control Order in Malaysia, the shift from office to home has paved the way for a new normal where businesses must rethink their operations and processes.
The COVID-19 crisis forces companies to reevaluate how they do business, what products they offer, and who they serve.
More than that, a phenomenon coined The Great Resignation has swept through organisations across the world.
With work from home arrangements now becoming the norm and with many businesses adopting a slow response to the evolving needs of their employees, employers are facing an increasing risk of their skilled workers choosing to leave.
If employers wish to keep their skilled staff successfully, they need to adapt to their changing needs and change their mindset about work culture, leadership style and team member engagement.
While seemingly simple, the process of planning and implementing such changes at scale for all parties involved is no easy feat.
The current workplace landscape
Even before COVID-19 and remote work was a global phenomenon, Malaysia was already ahead of the work-from-home crowd. In 2013, research by global workplace provider Regus showed that the country was above the global average of 48 per cent, with 53 per cent enjoying flexible working arrangements.
According to marketing firm Ipsos, Malaysia continues to pull ahead in 2021, with 65 per cent claiming to continue to work remotely compared to the global average of 52 per cent.
The research findings also revealed that Malaysians reported experiencing the highest levels of anxiety amongst the 28 countries polled, with 67 per cent experiencing stress due to changes in routine, family pressure and other concerns.
For 63 per cent of Malaysian employees, maintaining a work-life balance has become a challenge.
Working from home has removed the clear structure and routine of working at the office, like clear lunch hours and expected ending times. Lines become blurred, and some employees have shared that their managers expect them to be readily available even on weekends to complete work tasks.
So much so that The Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia has received plenty of reports regarding employers who are alleged to have made employees work beyond regular hours and on rest days.
During the Movement Control Order (MCO) period, a study by Aon Malaysia noted that 67 per cent of organisations reported their employees’ productivity levels drop by up to 30 per cent, and only 25 per cent could maintain or increase their productivity levels.
Some managers have adopted a more paternalistic approach by micromanaging their employees’ activities to keep productivity levels up.
However, research has shown that close to 70 per cent of those who worked with a micromanager experienced a decrease in morale, with 55 per cent feeling less productive and many who felt they were micromanaged eventually resigning from their jobs.
While the transition to remote work has allowed for the rise of virtual meetings and higher levels of communication through services such as Zoom, Slack and WhatsApp, there often remains the challenge of a lack of focus, communication and alignment amongst a team, between departments and across the entire company overall.
All these pitfalls and shortcomings of one’s company culture often lead to a failure in achieving organisational goals and an increase in employee turnover rate with employers struggling to retain their employees.
Across the world, there is a growing need for organisations to become more agile as they strive to stay competitive amongst their competition and improve their company culture to entice and engage skilled workers to remain at the company.
One such methodology that helps to achieve this is through the use of OKR.
What exactly are OKRs?
OKRs is a framework used by companies to align and unite the entire company. It helps them achieve specific business outcomes while also helping teams understand what success looks like from each perspective.
By setting ambitious goals that are measurable and attainable through OKRs, employers can keep track of progress, create alignment and encourage engagement.
Used by companies such as Adobe, Google and Netflix, OKRs have shown to be a great tool for achieving business goals. Still, more than that, they’ve demonstrated that implementing such a framework in the right way can lead to and drastically change a working environment for the better.
At Intel, OKR, under Andy Grove, who coined the framework, helped to increase Intel’s revenue from US$1.9 billion to US$26 billion.
For Adobe, their check-in method, which involved quarterly goals and expectations (their term for OKR) as part of their performance review, saw a sharp decline in their voluntary attrition rate since its implementation in the fall of 2012.
Though a straightforward strategy, OKRs have led to higher output management, better team alignment and increased communication amongst an organisation and a team.
Better alignment and clearer expectations
Using OKRs are an effective way to streamline goals and objectives across the entire company. Leaders at the very top will be able to convey the top-level vision and direction of the company to all levels of staff.
This allows everyone to know exactly where they stand and what needs to happen next to help move towards the goal.
With the overall mission for the year in mind, the leaders of each department, teams and respective business units and individuals can align and set their OKRs to work towards the said goal.
The company’s managers and leaders can then check through the respective OKRs set during the approval process and ensure that everything is aligned or to correct any gaps found, ensuring all efforts within the company will be focused on a single goal.
Increased autonomy and ownership
Because OKRs are specific and measurable, they provide clarity around one’s tasks and duties. Managers can set correct or even stretched targets and make sure everyone knows exactly where they stand.
This leads to greater transparency between individuals and groups, allowing people to see if they’re doing enough or not.
As managers set the OKRs for their team or department, they should be taking in the inputs of their employees, especially in setting ambitious goals. In fact, a recommendation suggests that employees should set about 60 per cent of the OKRs instead of the managers and leaders since they’re more in touch with the frontline problems.
By giving their employees more say in setting the goals that they’re meant to achieve, they’re able to take clear ownership of their responsibilities and tasks.
At the same time, the employees feel empowered to take action and make decisions based on their own knowledge and experience rather than a set of rules imposed upon them.
OKRs boost employee engagement, performance and motivation
Though Malaysia’s average employee engagement is above the global average of 53 per cent with a rate of 54 per cent, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
The implementation of OKRs contributes to an increase in employee engagement rate, with workers more inclined to contribute to the company.
The framework also aids in increasing the organisation’s transparency with more employees knowing and understanding the mission and the vision of the company and what they can do to achieve it.
It helps them feel that their actions contribute to the success of working towards the team, departmental and overall company goals, which correlate to an increase in their feelings of accountability and ownership for their work.
With the increased clarity on their tasks and with a clear purpose and reason for their work, employees become more motivated as they work towards their objectives and increase employee engagement as it encourages a culture of collaboration and progression with consistent feedback.
Evolution to performance management methods
No longer will managers have to micromanage their employees to get their tasks done, OKR easing the process by having the latter take initiative efforts to complete their objectives and work.
With key results and in conjunction with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), it has become easier for all involved parties to keep track of the progress of a particular project or task.
OKRs also allow for continuous improvement due to their shorter goal cycles. As new information comes into play, OKRs can be adjusted accordingly. With term cycles being anywhere from a month to three months for a tactical OKR and about a year for strategic OKRs, it allows teams to easily adapt to possible changes, making it an apt integration for a team going agile where changes are to be expected.
Finally, using OKRs allow companies to track progress against goals over time. If there were no metrics available, this would mean relying solely on anecdotal evidence about how well things went.
However, with OKRs, we get concrete numbers that show us just how much our team has achieved so far. We can easily compare results month after month and quarter after quarter, leading to more comprehensive performance reviews.
I’ve helped companies big and small put OKRs into practice within their teams, departments, business units and even across entire organisations.
Company culture gets enhanced as employees become more motivated and involved at work and the organisation becomes better aligned to increased transparency between teams and the organisation.
Since 2017, I’ve seen some companies increase 200-400 per cent in their business performance and a 25 per cent decrease in their operational mistakes after successful implementation of the new framework.
I believe that now is the time for change and opportunity for many companies to evaluate their processes and culture to remain competitive for their customers and the employees they wish to keep.
To retain skilled employees, employers must engage, motivate and communicate with their employees in today’s shifting workplace environment.