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Microsoft Viva is a set of features which Microsoft has bundled into an employee experience brand.  Some of these features are available through a Microsoft 365 license. There are paid features which can also be licensed individually, or all together with Viva suite licensing.  I recently had the opportunity to attend a demonstration from a great teammate, Derek Knauss, on the Viva Goals module, and I wanted to share what I learned. 

What is Viva Goals? 

Viva Goals is an app that we can deploy within Microsoft Teams, as well as a web application accessible through their internet browser. From the Microsoft Viva Goals page, we should use Viva Goals to: 

  • Create, manage, align, and customize OKR workflows with OKR templates, automated check-ins, and advanced insights. 
  • Boost business rhythms with OKRs using shared dashboards and advanced insights. 
  • Connect work to outcomes with deep integrations to tasks, projects, and embedded OKR views. 
  • Integrate into critical tools, such as Teams, Slack, and Glip, to enable automated OKR check-ins. 
  • Get enterprise scale and security with SSO capabilities, data encryption, SOC 2 Type II compliance, enterprise-grade privacy, and advanced permissions. 
  • Use advanced OKR configurations with customizable weights and scoring guidance. 

Viva Goals Dashboard
Figure 1

All that makes perfect sense, right?  It would if we were already familiar with OKRs and what all that means.  OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. A goal setting framework used at the organization, team, and individual level to define measurable goals, therefore tracking their outcome. 

What are Objectives and Key Results? 

Whenever I learn about a business management framework or technique I haven’t heard of, I always look where it came from, its history, and some of the criticism around it. In the business world, there’s lots of marketing around simple solutions to complex problems. Sometimes as we communicate a framework or technique over time, its original intent is lost or distorted. 

So, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), developed in the 1970s, by Andrew Grove, introduced this approach to Intel in the 1970s.  John Doerr, at the time a salesperson, attended a course at Intel taught by Grove.  Years later, Doerr, now working at a venture capital firm, introduced the idea to Google. There it quickly became central to Google’s culture as a management method.  Doerr later published a book about the OKR framework called Measure What Matters in 2018. 

Key Results in Viva Goals
Figure 2

Ok, history lesson over!  Let’s get into what the Objective and Key Results framework is. OKRs are made up on an OBJECTIVE, three to five associated KEY RESULTS, which are supported by INITIATIVES. 

Objective: Where do we want to go? 

  • Objective: Where do we want to go? 
    • Objectives should be clear, inspiring, public stretch goals shared across the organization. 
    • As OKRs are intended to sharpen focus across the org, there should be no more than 5 objectives. 
    • Objectives should be at least quarterly, to allow for opportunities to shift focus as conditions change.
    • Example – Deliver a “delightful” sales experience. 
  •  Key Results: How do we know we are getting where we want to go? 
    • 3-5 Key Results per objective 
    • Each Key Result should have a focus, a measurement, and be ambitious. 
    • The idea is define key results we meet 70% of the time. We should be unsure we will meet all the Key Results. 
    • Examples 
      • Increase average satisfaction score from surveyed prospects from 7.5 to 8.5 
      • Reduce sales cycle from 40 to 28 days 
      • Increase referral rate from 5% to 10% 
  • Initiatives: What do we have to do to get there? 
    • The group of tasks and activities that need to happen to drive key results. 
    • Examples 
      • Interview prospects with lower satisfaction to identify trends 
      • Map the sales cycle and target steps for improvements and automation 
      • Create formal referral program to incentivize clients to refer us to others 
  • OKRs are NOT: 
    • Unrealistic or vague goals 
    • An exhaustive task or to-do list of everything that needs done each day (that’s project planning!) 
    • Overly specific to be constraining and inflexible when new information is available. 

I’ve just scratched the surface on this, so if you’re interested in learning more, check out the OKR Leadership Program and Get Started with Microsoft Viva Goals Microsoft Learning Paths. 

What does a Viva Goals Implementation Looks Like? 

An implementation of Viva Goals really shouldn’t begin until an organization has committed to adopting OKRs as a practice.  They’ve already experimented with the method in small groups, gained executive sponsorship to adopt OKRs, and they have incorporated this concept widely into the business rhythms.  Up until this point, they are using a set of spreadsheets to define the OKRs and update key results within the organization.  If your organization has adopted the OKR method and are preparing to scale it to the entire organization, then this is where you’ll select and implement an OKR tool, which is where Viva Goals comes in. 

OKRs in Viva Goals
Figure 3

I’d recommend a 4-8 week timeline when launching Viva Goals into an organization.  This would include the pre-launch activity to raise awareness, highlight the value, or why behind the implementation, and deliver user guides and training.  In parallel, the tenant admins prepare the environment and Microsoft Teams to deploy the app. Then work with the OKR champions to get the initial set of Objectives and Key Results loaded into Viva Goals.  On launch day, focus shifts to continued communication showcasing the user experience, illustrating specific scenarios, as well as key tips for Viva Goals based on the initial launch feedback. 

My Two Cents 

I could see management trying to use OKRs in performance reviews for individuals. Or even the feeling of management linking OKRs to compensation tainting the adoption.  I also think that poorly defined goals could incentivize behavior that makes “the numbers go up” in the short term but detrimental long term.  There will be lots of experimentation, learning, and some failures rolling out OKRs and Viva Goals. I think organizations with a low cultural tolerance for failure and learning will struggle to successfully implement the OKR concept. 

There’s a lot of focus on the outcomes. I have concerns in an implementation that puts too much focus on outcomes while failing to praise individual efforts. Studies have shown that praising people for their efforts (which an individual fully controls) vs the outcomes (which an individual rarely fully controls), leads to higher performing individuals over time.  A good manager will be aware of this. Make sure to praise their teams effort, since OKRs tend to be ambitious and not all of them will be met.  

Overall, I’m curious about Viva Goals and Objective and Key Results, and I’ll write more in the future as I learn more about the tool and its associated framework. I think when well thought out and communicated, Objectives and Key Results can help an organization set aspirational goals, drive focus towards those goals, and empower teams and individuals to align within those organizational goals.