A key motivation for implementing a traditional organizational goal-setting/OKR system is often to use it as a mechanism to drive accountability. Therefore, the push-back for eliminating or overhauling such system is often the concern that if we don’t ask people to set goals, what is it that we will hold them accountable for?
Walsh, via Rekhi, offers a compelling alternative: a Standard of Performance.
The Standard of Performance clearly delineates what excellence looks like in each role. It includes each of the skills that someone who is excelling at the role is expected to have. And even beyond job skills, it includes the attitude that’s expected of each individual as well as interpersonal dynamics.
In a sense, I’m thinking about it as an expanded/modified career ladder that focuses on those three elements: skills, attitude, and interpersonal. Under such system, people are held accountable to the behaviors that eventually lead to long-term success, rather than to a defined outcome with a fixed time horizon.
The one aspect where my views differ from what Walsh/Rekhi advocate for is around who defines these Standards of Performance for each. In their opinion, it should be the coach/manager who does that, but they also acknowledge that this approach poses a real challenge:
Bill expects leaders to be functional experts in the roles on their team in order to develop the Standard of Performance. These leaders are not just people managers. They are the very best at what they do… But Bill admits that to do this well, you need to posses incredible knowledge and develop expert intuition in your domains of expertise. And this takes a lifetime of experience to hone and develop. There are no shortcuts in Bill’s leadership approach.
In my opinion, this falls into the “unicorn manager trap”: so we’re looking for people who are not only highly competent and motivated people managers, but they’re also functional domain experts capable of defining the standard of performance in each of the roles that report into them? Good luck finding them…
The good news is that I don’t think this is a hard requirement, and an alternative can actually move us on the path of unbundling the managerial responsibilities package: the skills piece of the Standard of Performance is a function, well, of the function (or role). I believe it should be identical for people doing the same role in different organizations and there’s no need for each organization to reinvent the wheel here. I do expect inter-org (but not intra-org) variability in the attitude and interpersonal pieces since those should be reflecting the company values/culture. However, those should be defined at the company (not team) level and co-created in a participatory process.
Is this the end-all-be-all solution for humanistic accountability? No. But certainly a piece of the puzzle.