Aligning People Part 2: A Leader’s Greatest Challenge

Part II: The Role of a Manager

Aligning people part 2

Those of you who caught Part I of this article (I’d recommend taking a moment to check it out if you missed it) will know that workplace disruption is killing alignment. With more generations working than ever before and huge skill gaps between them, aligning employees with organisational goals is no easy task. So, how do leaders overcome the obstacles, galvanise their staff and promote operational success?

Purpose + Expectation = Alignment

My recent article on work and happiness discussed a leader’s role in aligning employees with organisational purpose. Purpose is a critical element of alignment, true, but complete alignment requires excellent communication of both purpose and expectations.

Whatever obstacle you’re battling, clearly communicating expectations has the power to overcome it — providing you understand that expectations are a two-way street. Organisations are entitled to make demands on their employees; just as individuals have needs they expect their employers to meet.

The Importance of Alignment

Misaligned employees are bad for business. Characterised by low job satisfaction and productivity, high turnover rates and absenteeism, a misaligned workforce can mean the difference between profitability and failure.

A 1990s study of the then emerging firms in Silicon Valley defined four models of employee management in the tech industry. Traditional, manager-led companies that hired for current skills operated the Factory Model. The Commitment Model described peer controlled organisations that hired for cultural fit and love of the job. The Engineering Model (most common in Silicon Valley) was also peer controlled and relied on passionate employees but hired based on skills. The most idealistic, Star Model companies hired passionate employees for their potential, rather than current skills¹.

Years down the line, it was the organisations that operated the Star and Commitment Models that were most profitable, successfully completing initial public stock offerings ahead of the others¹. These are the teams that hired for potential and passion, aligning committed employees with organisational goals and encouraging them to develop skills and grow with the company.

68% of women are satisifed with their jobs

1. Setting Expectations

Communicating an organisation’s strategic objectives isn’t enough to facilitate individual alignment². Individuals must understand what actions are needed to realise organisational goals, and managers need to set expectations that align with the bigger picture and provide clear direction.


To my mind, the most important form of expectation are values. These are the shared beliefs that people within your organisation hold. A group united by values will achieve far more than one that’s fractious and disagreeable. Indeed, employers who base hiring decisions on how well candidates align with existing values typically increase employee satisfaction by 50%, reducing the rate of voluntary turnover in the process³.


Performance metrics, including SMART Goals, KPIs and OKRs, all provide direction for employees. As do role descriptions, responsibilities, competencies and behavioural values. Each of these detail actions required at an individual level and are critical to aligning employees with operational success — providing they complement organisational goals and individuals understand their role in the bigger picture.

That’s not to say that expectations are a cure-all. Alignment is a continual process, and you can’t ‘set and forget’ expectations. Leaders must provide feedback on how well employees are meeting their objectives, helping individuals identify areas where they can improve their performance and establishing new expectations as the organisational strategy develops.


The most successful organisations integrate long-term objectives with more flexible, short-term goals. They recognise that their expectations for employees will change, as will the expectations of their staff. One of the best ways to ensure staff stay aligned is through regular one-to-one check-ins. These provide leaders and team members with the opportunity to voice their needs and expectations.

Embedding organisational goals in performance metrics won’t improve alignment. Employees need to understand strategic goals and how their actions complement them⁴. There’s evidence to suggest that knowledge of organisational strategy has a greater impact on alignment than being included in the decision making process⁵.

2. Listening

Expectations are a two-way street. Leaders who take the time to understand and meet the needs of individuals enhance their confidence, job satisfaction and productivity.

A recent study found (not surprisingly) that expectation for progression in graduates was correlated with job satisfaction, and that graduates would move employers to see their expectations for progression met⁷. Regular one-to-one meetings and conversations that provide staff with the opportunity to discuss and evaluate how realistic their expectations are enhance job satisfaction and staff retention.

Searching for a new employer

3. Onboarding

These days, onboarding has to happen quickly. We simply don’t have the luxury of waiting a year for individuals to grow into a role — some will already be looking for their next employer by that point.

It’s up to us as leaders to integrate new hires quickly into a team; boosting alignment, engagement and job satisfaction in the process. This is why our new onboarding product automates not only forms like tax declarations but also ‘true’ onboarding activities, speeding up learning and team social integration to maximise productivity.

4. The Millennial Question

Generation Y consistently scores lower than any other for engagement, satisfaction and commitment (they have some pretty high turnover intentions as well)⁸. Their motivations are at odds with how conventional approaches say new employees should think and act.
In fact, the only place Millennial attitudes align with other generations is education and training⁸.

Anyone who read my article on the topic will know I don’t advocate shaking up the workplace purely for the Millennial crew — changes need to accommodate everyone.

We are aware that the generation gap is affecting alignment. Leaders must recognise that individuals have different needs, and generalisations about age groups are just that, generalisations. They do, however, form a starting point for a conversation with a team member about their needs. And that’s a conversation we should all be working to facilitate.

To Sum Up…

Leaders that encourage a culture of ongoing performance are best placed to optimise alignment. They promote higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction and productivity at the individual level and, because these initiatives are tailored to the personal needs of team members, they successfully combat obstacles including the generation gap, lifestyle and job dissatisfaction.


¹Hannan et al., 1996. Inertia and change in the early years: employment relations in young, high technology firms. Cornell University.

²Boswell et al., 2006. Aligning employees through line of sight. Cornell University.

³Bradshaw, 2012. Putting value alignment to work to drive positive organisational outcomes. DeGarmo Group.

⁴Ayers. 2015. Aligning individual and organisational performance: goal alignment in federal government agency performance appraisals. Public Personnel Management. 44 (2). pp. 169-191. Abstract available from: Sage Publications.

⁵Van Reil et al., 2009. Stimulating strategically aligned behaviour among employees. Journal of Management Studies. 46 (7). pp. 1197-1226.

⁶Mazzei and Ravanazzi. 2011. Manager employee communication during a crisis: the missing link. Corporate Communications.

⁷Williamson and Mundy. 2010. Graduate radiographers’ expectations for role development – the potential impact of misalignment of expectation and valence on staff retention and service provision. Radiography. 16 (1). pp. 40-47.

⁸Solnet et al., 2012. Generation Y employees: an examination of work attitude differences. Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship. 17 (3). pp. 36.

Level-Up Your Leadership Knowledge: Performance Metrics Masterclass

Terms such as KRA, KPI and OKR are thrown around pretty frequently in the business world. Many organisations use them as measures of success; basing bonus, promotion or grades of pay on the progress (or lack of) that staff make towards these goals. But what is the best set of performance metrics designed to unify the workforce and drive your organisation forward?

We need to understand exactly what these measurement approaches can achieve if we’re going to use them as more than just workforce yardsticks.


Key Result Area (KRA)

These are critical success factors: actions that are necessary to achieve a specific objective. Ideally, everyone within an organisation is assigned KRAs specific to their team, department or other workgroup, so they know exactly which actions they must take to realise strategic goals and ensure future success.


Teams that use KRAs have been shown to be proactive, rather than reactive, simply because they make a point of consciously identifying the areas where their efforts make a difference long-term.

By defining expectations and providing clarity, employees know exactly why they’re there and what they’re doing. Individuals understand why some KRAs take precedence over others and have the knowledge to effectively prioritise their workload.

In fact, the KRA-centric appraisal system of Simbawli Sugar Ltd., one of the biggest mills in Northern India, has had a significant influence on employee engagement (an issue I tackled a little closer to home in this post). Senior staff credit the KRA approach with focusing employees on outcomes, improving competencies and increasing accountability.


There are a couple of downsides to KRAs, namely finding metrics that are easy to measure. Setting individuals objectives also poses a problem, since it only captures around 80% of a department’s workload (the rest falls in areas of shared responsibility).

When would you use it?

This system works well for organisations with multi-skilled teams and high numbers of experienced staff. Everyone understands the vision and their role in achieving it, so using KRAs negates the need for micromanagement and daily check-ins.

Objectives and Key Results (OKR)

Objectives and key results are a favourite of the tech industry (see my recent performance management post). They were designed to challenge individuals and are comprised of one objective and multiple quantifiable key result measures. Progress indicators for these measures are scaled by either 0-1 or 0-100% and are regularly updated. A good OKR should be pretty hard to nail, so they’re considered complete when progress exceeds 75% or 0.75. If you hit 100%, your OKRs are far too easy.

Objectives and KRAs


Google loves this one; Rick Klau even credits it with helping to keep the company on track and moving forward. That’s because OKRs provide clarity, every person in the organisation knows what is expected of them and why, and everyone’s OKRs work together to drive the business forward.

The defining factor about OKRs is that they are transparent. Employees can see what colleagues are working on, their progress on current targets and how well they performed previously. This is also true at Google, where even Larry Page’s objectives and progress are available for all to see.

They’re also pretty adaptable. Google sets an annual flexible OKR supported by quarterly objectives that are set-in-stone. Of course, you can opt for biannual or monthly targets: it’s really about what works for your business.


The main disadvantage of OKRs lies with managers, specifically their goal-setting ability (if you’re not sure exactly how to set worthwhile, actionable goals, take a look at the Cognology guide to writing SMART objectives).

When it comes to OKRs, managers must have a realistic understanding of employees’ roles, skills, and resources. Otherwise they risk setting unachievable goals that demoralise their workforce.

In contrast, the ‘nice guys’ set a couple of easy and one difficult objective because they don’t like to see employees scoring 0.6 (remember, OKRs are meant to be challenging. Google sets targets of 0.6-0.7).

When would you use it?

OKRs are particularly well suited to start-ups and those operating in capricious markets. Quarterly or bimonthly objectives provide staff with a sense of purpose and direction but are flexible enough to adapt to a changeable long-term vision.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are probably the best known performance metric. Of course they vary between companies and industries, but KPIs are frequently used to analyse factors that are crucial to the success of an organisation. They exist at both operational and staff appraisal levels, with employee KPIs supporting operational KPIs.

Used to help manage both KRAs and OKRs, employee KPIs measure of primary responsibilities. Consisting of a timeframe, a target, and a benchmark, KPIs focus on results, opposed to activities. They are milestones designed to help individuals, and their managers, gauge whether their performance is on track.


Like all appraisal systems, KPIs allow organisations to measure progress towards a strategic goal. They require discussion on how they will be measured before they’re converted into a benchmark, so are more likely to be realistic and attainable than OKRs.

Unlike KRAs, they can be team-wide, with whole departments monitoring and addressing issues associated with the success rate of an indicator. They’re also great for turning prospects into clients since the metrics tend to go hand-in-hand with performance data and often provide actionable insight.

Pfizer, a pharmaceutical Goliath, relies heavily on KPIs at both an operational and corporate level. And it makes good use of them when it comes to boosting brand trust, publicising KPIs of public concern, such as carbon emissions.


No matter how you tackle it, measuring KPIs can be a time-consuming process. Pfizer might love them for the insight they offer when it comes to identifying strengths and weaknesses in its global empire, but those insights come at the cost of data collection and analysis, internal audits, facility self-assessments, and management system reviews.

Which leads us to the next point: KPIs can be expensive. They’re also pretty limited since they are restricted to variables that can be measured (employee engagement, for example, is difficult to quantify). Plus they’re inflexible – changing a KPI can potentially mean disregarding years of comparative data.

When would you use it?

KPIs are an excellent way to measure performance and profitability metrics. They work particularly well in organisations that have multiple uses for performance data and can justify the time and expense of monitoring it.

In conclusion…

These appraisal systems each ensure employees are working towards a common goal; the best even include individuals in the attainment of that goal. Each has weaknesses, but they are not insurmountable – it’s all about what works best for your organization. Choosing the correct performance management system requires a keen vision, long term goals and an understanding of the resources and skills available to your staff.

Three Ways to Promote Happiness (and Success) at Work

In the middle of an Australian winter when the footy team you barrack for isn’t winning, the central heating has packed it in and your favorite barista has gone on a long holiday to more tropical climes, it can be hard to keep the smile on your face. But it’s the topic of happiness at work that I want to delve into today.

Happiness at work

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve got some pretty firm views on happiness and how it’s linked to purpose. And in a similar vein to Mahatma Gandhi, I believe that the happiest people at work are those whose values are congruent with their actions, and the values of the organisation they are working in.

When they are also using their skills and knowledge to contribute to something bigger, say the realization of company goals, or more subtle achievements like a more peaceful community, it’s a recipe for happiness if ever I saw one.

There have been tomes of research published over the decades on the topic of happiness, job satisfaction and productivity. The link between these three oft-quoted factors is not going to be news to you, I’m sure.

But how can organisations provide a work environment in which people can be happy and thrive? Here are my top three suggestions on how to do it:

Encourage purpose and meaning in work

A while back I read an article about the idea of purpose being linked to happiness. In it, Steven W. Cole, a professor of medicine at California’s UCLA, was quoted saying that “purpose is an elastic concept, requiring you only to ‘have a goal greater’ than your immediate gratification”.

It got me thinking. When people feel that their work is contributing to something special, the achievement of a worthwhile outcome, they feel a sense of purpose.  Purpose gives meaning to work, something much more significant than pay, leave, status and other benefits (though those are nice too, don’t get me wrong).

When people come together with the same sense of purpose, it’s as though they’re being magically propelled towards achievement and success.  In fact, people who derive meaning from their work are more than 3 times as likely to stay in their organisations, enjoy 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and are 1.4 times more engaged.1

In his book Drive, Dan Pink says that purpose is right up there in the top three motivators for people at work: “1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”2

Finding purpose and meaning in jobs in health and allied services, the defence forces and education (to name a few) might not seem like much of a stretch. But if you need inspiration to find meaning in your job, or your team in theirs, take a look at this fresh and entertaining SlideShare on the search for meaning in a B2B marketing job.

Align people to common goals and celebrate success

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or visit the Cognology learning centre from time to time, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of goals, and SMART goals in particular.

Setting goals is possibly the most effective way of aligning people in an organisation. With a clear company purpose both shared and understood throughout the business answering the question ‘why are we in business?’, goals activate the strategy – they provide the necessary ‘how’ to the ‘why’.

Involve people in setting goals, in teams ideally, cascading down waterfall-style from the founders/owners/directors to the people delivering at the coalface, to develop ownership and alignment right through the business. Link personal key performance indicators to give every employee laser-like understanding of how their job makes an impact, of why it matters.

Serving a dual purpose, goals not only help to align people, but they also provide opportunities to celebrate achievements. In fact, in a recent global study BCG found that the #1 factor for employee happiness is having their work appreciated.

Goal achievement is reason for celebration, but capitalise on the moment and make sure that people know their work is appreciated, and acknowledge it genuinely. Happy days.

Promote company values at every stage

In a similar vein to purpose and common goals, shared values can contribute to a sense of belonging and grease the wheels of positive corporate culture.

When people in an organisation have values in common, and in common with the company, there’s a ‘cultural fit’. Adrian Furnham describes it as: ‘where there is congruence between the norms and values of the organisation and those of the person’.3

People in congruent jobs feel more competent. And good cultural fit is also associated with other positive outcomes like increased job satisfaction, more commitment to the job and company and superior job performance.

With all that positivity going on, it would be hard not to be just a little bit happy sometimes!

The start of the employment relationship is the most critical time to check-in on cultural fit.  Values that shape behavior rarely change over time, so recruiting people who share your company’s values – or the most important top two or three – is paramount to a successful new hire.

When recruitment pressure is on, it can be tough to look past a job candidate who ticks all the boxes for skill, experience and willingness… overlook value congruence at your peril.

When many people think of being happy, they might reflect on being with family, taking fabulous holidays, or going out with friends.  But meaningful work also delivers happiness in spades, in a different way.  Not ‘smiles a minute’, but happy through intrinsic satisfaction and the fulfillment that comes from working in pursuit of purpose.

Further reading:



3. ‘The Psychology of Behaviour at Work’, p116.


Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Use performance management to give your employees purpose, and watch what happens next

Imagine joining Netflix before anyone knew what it was.  You received a job description before starting.  On day 1 your boss gets you started on your key responsibilities. Whether your role is to sign movie licensing deals, develop their software or provide customer service,  as often happens for a large majority of people, your sense of engagement will likely start strong and then wane in the months following the honeymoon period.

But now imagine what would happen if before you even started, you knew the purpose for Netflix and how you fit in.  You knew they wanted to create the worlds most popular movie and TV streaming service.  They wanted to give people access to the shows they loved on-demand, a completely new idea.

The people you worked with continually talked about this picture of the future.  How much more engaging and motivating would it be?  You’d have a purpose beyond your end of week pay packet. As Hubspot’s culture code puts it: paychecks matter but purpose matters more.”

Individual performance (and subsequently overall business performance) dramatically improves when employees know why they are doing their job. It’s further enhanced when people know how their job impacts or contributes to the goals of the business overall.

The key benefits of a sense of purpose

Maintain a sense of purpose at all levels in your organisation – linking everyone’s job to the bigger picture – and your business will reap the rewards:

  • Significantly higher engagement – which lowers absenteeism and turnover and increases productivity
  • A faster business – with everyone pulling in the same direction you can achieve your goals more quickly
  • A more innovative business – having a clear direction promotes more creativity

Well-executed performance management clearly defines the link between an employee’s job and the objectives of the business – day in, day out. Here’s how:

1. Clearly articulate company goals to everyone

Sharing your company’s goals is the starting point for both purpose-driven employees and great performance management.

Creating a sense of purpose at an individual level starts with the leadership team asking “why do we do what we do?” – then clearly communicating the answer to the business. In his 2010 TED talk, Simon Sinek makes a terrifically powerful appeal to leaders (it’s worth watching):

“It’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them.”

Transparent company goals that are communicated clearly and often lay the foundations for a workforce driven by a shared purpose. They are also the bedrock for effective performance management.

At its core, great performance management ensures that employees are aligned with the business as it moves forward. It has the power to ensure the right people are in the right roles, doing the right tasks and developing their skills in line with business needs.

Of course, in order to do this job effectively, performance management relies on every employee understanding the fundamental goals of the business.

2. Align employee goals with business goals 

Give your employees purpose by clearly explaining exactly how their job affects the success of the business. A crucial step in the implementation of a great performance management system is giving goals this context.

The SMART approach is a best-practice method for setting goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound). The ‘R for relevant’ is the key here – make sure all goals are clearly relevant to the business’s purpose.

For example, using the idea in our introduction, if you were setting a goal for a HR executive, an aligned and purposeful objective would be to “Contribute to successful commencement of services in Australia by establishing a leadership team by January 2015 with proven past successes building operations from the ground up” 

At Netflix, giving employees context is ingrained behaviour. The Netflix culture code captures this by saying: “High performance people will do better work if they understand the context.”

But it’s not just Netflix that says so – research backs up the statement strongly. If you’re interested to read more on this, I can suggest two papers from the Center of Advanced Human Resource Studies: ‘Seeing Clearly’ from this collection of white papers and ‘Employee line of sight to the organisation’s strategic objectives – what it is, how it can be enhanced and what it makes happen’.

3. Use performance management to maintain a sense of purpose when things change

Business objectives, and subsequently business strategies, can change in a heartbeat – especially in fast-moving, innovative organisations, or those facing fierce competition, regulatory upheaval and so on. Change can mean that job roles quickly become misaligned with the new direction of the business. To keep your employees on the right track and adding value despite shifting sands, ongoing feedback and coaching is crucial.

The effect of coaching on purpose and engagement hasn’t gone unnoticed at Wells Fargo. A top executive announced last year that he expects bank managers to spend two thirds of their time coaching their staff.

Ongoing feedback and coaching are key elements of best-practice performance management. Providing plenty of contact time between employees and their managers/mentors, regular feedback means new strategies can be quickly implemented on the ground.

Done well, every coaching and feedback session will leave your employees feeling that achieving their individual goals are directly connected to the success of the business.

In conclusion

A sense of purpose lies at the very heart of driving employee engagement and better business performance.

Great results happen when every employee is connected to purpose, every day. Best-practice performance management makes this straightforward.

With clear goals, feedback and coaching, your employees will have a direct and tangible connection to the success of your organisation.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.