Article: Productivity post-COVID: From measuring activity to measuring outcomes

Strategic HR

Productivity post-COVID: From measuring activity to measuring outcomes

The traditional system of measuring and compensating employees based primarily upon the number of hours worked is due for overhaul and the coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity to consider better, fairer alternatives. Can OKRs be that alternative?
Productivity post-COVID: From measuring activity to measuring outcomes

For the first time ever, more employees than ever globally are working from home. From Google to Facebook to TCS to Infosys, many organizations are not planning to let their entire workforce com to office till the end of this year. This calls for a huge rethink on productivity and performance. 

What exactly is going to be the definition of productivity? How are we going to measure it? Definitely not the way some organizations are requesting their employees to use their webcams during the official working hours. When people are ending up spending more time working from home, how can we refine our assessment of employees’ work and the rewards they receive, such that it is a fair and equitable reflection of their contribution to the organization? 

Maybe it’s now that the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) philosophy can be deployed more effectively to not only measure productivity in the way it should be but also empower remote leaders and build boundary-less and fair organizations.

From measuring activity to measuring results

Senthil Rajagopalan, COO and President of, an intuitive, easy to use, comprehensive, OKR tracking software, with over 1100 clients globally shares, “When it comes to productivity and measurement, there are two types of organizations-there is one set of organizations that rigorously focus on timesheets and measurement of the number of hours, which is clearly measurement of activity. In contrast, there are companies that are much more enlightened and really focus on business outcomes, teamwork, and collaboration. What we are finding is that most companies will have to adapt to measuring results rather than activities. This is going to be a fundamental shift post-COVID-19. This will bring in a culture of transparency, with a scoreboard being available for everyone.”

While this is common in many functions such as sales but Senthil believes that now companies that want to survive and thrive will follow this wholeheartedly.

Thus measurement of productivity will change from activity to results and will have a lot of focus on corporate goals and teams rather than just individuals.

From annual plans to weekly plans

The situation calls for organizations to refine their assessment of employees’ work and the rewards they receive, such that it is a fair and equitable reflection of their contribution to the organization. And one way of doing it is making the shift from annual plans to weekly plans. 

Agility demands that business becomes much lighter. Annual plans are not going to cut it. Companies are having much shorter planning life cycles-from quarterly to few weeks. Everyone has gone from the waterfall model to sprints. I think HR practices really need to reflect the change in agility,” adds Senthil.

This means that annual performance goals don’t cut it anymore. Hence under the OKR framework, business need to be reviewed on a weekly basis; similarly, feedback and review should be on a weekly basis. And when organizations align the individual goals with the corporate goals very clearly and provide a very transparent scoreboard, the sense of fairness and equitable reflection of their contribution will be automatically established among employees.

More self-driven employees, more ownership, better productivity

One important aspect of using OKRs to measure productivity is that they strongly encourage people to have stretch goals. When organizations celebrate the effort towards goals, this leads to employees becoming more self-driven. In OKRs, there is a very strong element of employee empowerment. Right from the target setting that happens with the employee’s buy-in, employees have a lot of freedom and flexibility in how they set the goals and how they will go out achieving them. From goal setting to execution to review, all this instills ownership and empowers employees strongly.

Further, companies have been transitioning for some time to a boundaryless organization, with global supply chains and development centers located all over the globe. COVID-19 has only accelerated this situation and OKR is proving to be a very apt management philosophy for this particular time. Especially now when people are separated, the first challenge that arises is communication-how do you ensure that key priorities are communicated? A system like OKR where you follow the philosophy coupled with cloud-based software brings everyone together on the same page. 

Also, when the corporate goals are aligned with the individual goals and week on week, employees see the corporate scoreboard moving, they can automatically see the greater purpose to their work, leading to better engagement, better productivity.

In addition, OKRs can help build the new category of “remote leaders” given organizations want to align their business objectives with agility and the much-needed flexibility. Senthil reveals, “One of the trends in recruitment especially in the US is that now companies are open to taking applications from any state given that most of the organizations will be working from home till the year-end. The same trend could happen in universities where now you could learn from any university (not necessarily near to you) given learning is also going virtual. The same thing will happen in leadership. OKR is known for nurturing self-driven leaders who are driven by results and not activity. Hence OKR framework can be a good breeding ground for remote leaders in today’s organizations, especially those who are good in collaboration, communication in the virtual world, and have the business agility that the situation demands.

Productivity measurement post-COVID?

When it comes to how productivity measurement looks in the future, while it is difficult to make the shift from measuring activity to results, yet Senthil believes it will catch on. The second change will be that HR will have a lot of work wrt competency mapping and reskilling and redeployment of resources. Because COVID-19 is causing a lot of demand displacements, organizations would want their people to reskill in order to step up to this demand and change. In particular, when it comes to measuring productivity, in addition to looking at results, people are also going to look at what is their contribution to the teamwork and to the departmental and corporate goals. 

Ultimately, we all know that the traditional system of measuring and compensating employees based primarily upon the number of hours worked is due for an overhaul and the coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity to consider better, fairer alternatives. One of the biggest shifts required is a psychological shift of not judging people on the number of hours they are present. With most employees working remotely, organizations will slowly make progress towards judging people on their results and not activity. And while a complete shift is far away, the OKR philosophy at least provides the perfect starting point for accelerating this change.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #TheNewNormal, #ResetWork

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