Just how serious is Microsoft about employee experience? At the same time they were releasing the first four Viva modules, they were acquiring what will soon become a fifth module. That’ll come in 2022 with the integration of Ally.io, an objectives and key results tracking system.
Viva’s first four modules (Connections, Insights, Topics, and Learning) were effectively repurposing and re-skinning existing products inside of Microsoft Teams, giving users one place to go for intranet, training, and wellbeing tools. You can get an overview the of Viva Modules already released here.
But Ally offers something completely new; tracking and measuring Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
Objectives and Key Results
Intel’s Andy Grove is widely credited with creating the OKR model over 40 years ago. The framework is summarized in Grove's two-minute video from the 1960s. The objective is the long-term goal, the direction, the “what.” The key results are measurable goals that are put in place to guide the organization toward the destination (the “how”). Individuals and teams work toward their key results so that they help the organization meet its objectives. If everyone in the corporate ladder progress toward their own key results, the objectives of the firms should be met.
"It's not a Key Result unless it has a number"
Marissa Mayer (former Yahoo! CEO, quoted above) and other key proponents of OKRs know that key results must have numbers, and those numbers must be tracked.
The more specific, the better, but at Rakuten, OKRs provide strategic clarity to the organization during rapidly changing times. “Even if you don’t have the goals set down to the specific KPI, at least being very transparent and clear about the direction the organization is taking is very important and that is a tremendous value OKRs bring,” says Ashish Sharma, VP of Corporate Strategy.
Organizations need a framework to set and then manage and report on key results. Ally.io is a software platform that allows organizations, managers, and frontline associates to set, track, and measure key results that align with the objectives.
Leading the OKR Sector
Ally was an established player in the objectives and key reporting software market. The market is crowded with independent providers, and OKR modules are available in some Human Capital Management systems like Workday. Ally's website lists a number of A-listers (at least one of which may soon be a former customer)!
With Ally, Viva will fill the significant gap between an organization’s lofty, aspirational objectives… and how employees support those objectives in their day-to-day activities. You don’t need to read the research or leading books like “Measure What Matters” to know that organizations are more effective when employees feel a direct connection to the objectives of the business. This chasm had been widest in large organizations, where CEOs don’t interact with line workers. But as more employees work from home, organizations of all sizes are more and more disconnected.
Viva’s Ally module will be a central hub where employees to see their individual goals, their teams goals, and update when they make progress. As with the rest of the Viva modules, instead of being on a separate webpage behind a separate login, this content will be surfaced in Microsoft Teams. Why is that so important? Given that people are sitting in meetings on Teams for a good part of the day, them being able to easily see their goals will give them regular reminders to focus on tasks they should be working on to meet their key results. By extension, that supports the objectives of their team and the larger organization.
An example view of the Ally content within Teams is shown in the image below.
Viva has already proven helpful for setting reminders for following up on emails and tasks. So too will Ally. Since bots can automatically initiate chats, people can get pop ups in Teams when their results haven't been updated in a while.
And since the update screens will also be embedded in Teams, it won't take long for people to update the system, then get back to the tasks that will deliver their results.
Tying into Existing Apps and Data
Even before its acquisition by Microsoft, Ally was connecting to multiple data sources. The idea is to automate OKR progress updates by connecting goals with popular project management solutions, spreadsheets, and Power BI tools. Some of the integrations are depicted below.
As an example, an IT helpdesk engineer with an objective of improved customer satisfaction could track their key results of numbers of tickets resolved or number of satisfied responses. Some of the options to track results within ZenDesk are shown below, including % of tickets resolved.
As another example, organizations can ingest data from marketing automations systems. A marketing representative whose key result includes increasing website visits by 25% can pull data automatically from HubSpot for specified metrics.
Notice how many stats of the specific SaaS app (shown at right) can be ported into Viva. Other metrics shown can include number of subscribers to social media, numbers of contacts and leads (both sales qualified and marketing qualified).
This keeps employees and management from having to check external systems to collate and compare results. Everything appears in Viva/Teams.
Tools are Just That
The problem that OKR and tools like Ally are out to solve is the lack of alignment between the C-suite and the front line. When the C-Suite’s lofty objectives mean little to individual departments, organizations tend to develop functional silos and slow changing business processes.
Why are OKRs important now? Yes because of remote work, but more importantly, because today’s decisions must be made quickly. When line workers don't quickly align with top-down decisions, major issues (like the supply chain crunch) are imminent. Businesses aren’t operating on annual cycles anymore, so performance management shouldn’t, either. Frequent check-ins allow teams to stay agile by boosting clarity and focus on priorities. OKRs support more agile goal setting, and putting these key measurable results inside of Microsoft Teams can make it a much more day today ritual.
Few organizations start their OKR journey with a tool, so jumping right into Viva Ally will mean a steeper learning curve. Of course, this will be far from an IT project. Stakeholders will include executives, HR, and line of business leaders. Formstack first began using OKRs with an in-house product. “The business was growing faster than that product could grow,” Miranda Nicholson, VP of HR says. “We got to a point that it didn’t work for us anymore, then we reverted to Google Sheets, which is sometimes the best or worse idea…. that was a worse idea for us.”
Viva already is improving wellbeing, collaboration, and corporate knowledge. In 2022, with the addition of whatever the Ally module will be called, it'll have an even more direct link to the organization's results. Getting started with the existing modules will get the culture headed in the right direction to tackle even more strategic functionality in the near future.