Conversations, Feedback and Recognition (CFRs) are a core building block to an effective OKR (Objective and Key Result) solution.

As a quick reminder, in Measure What Matters John Doerr defines CFR as follows:

  • Conversations: an authentic, richly textured exchange between manager and contributor, aimed at driving performance.
  • Feedback: bidirectional or networked communication among peers to evaluate progress and guide future improvement.
  • Recognition: expressions of appreciation to deserving individuals for contributions of all sizes.

In the normal flow of business, CFRs should be happening throughout the OKR cycle and should take place in the one-on-one sessions between an employee and their leader. They should also occur at the end of an OKR cycle. 

The conversation should be in-person or over a video conferencing service, not on Slack or over the phone, and should include goal-setting, reflection, and ongoing progress updates. The feedback should be risk-free, specific and constructive. Employees should leave knowing what their leader needs from them, and leaders should leave knowing what the employee needs from them and the organization.

What is different in a post-COVID-19 World?

COVID-19 has put stresses on the organization that CFRs can address. Specifically:

  • The social construct of organizations has been destroyed – we no longer meet in the hallways, breakroom or around meetings,
  • Leaders need to be clearer about what teams and individuals need to do and by when,
  • Employees need assurance that they are working on the right things,
  • Both employees and leaders need on-going progress updates – what progress is being made?,
  • Employees need affirmation and recognition for the work they have completed.

CFRs form the new social structure

Our unifying force is the organization: we know each other and interact because of our jobs. Leveraging that common ground – the work we do – creates a forcing function to have frequent conversations. CFRs, through our OKRs, give us something to talk about while we work together, while we are apart. Specifically we recommend:

  • Add Team CFR Sessions onto your meeting agenda. Create risk-free, transparent Team CFR sessions and make performance an easy, open conversation. In these meetings make it a ritual to specifically step through C-F-R.
  • Increase the frequency of OKR/ performance conversations, If you had one-on-ones once a month, now have them once a week. If your teams met once a quarter, now have their C-F-R session once a month

CFRs enable Leadership to be much clearer about what needs to be accomplished

Just creating an OKR or a project plan does not provide enough clarity to ensure alignment and focus. We used to gather this additional data in ad-hoc meetings and passing comments. Since those no longer happen, use frequent CFRs to ensure:

  • Employees can ask questions of clarity and propose approaches
  • Leaders can refine their request and flex around employee capabilities and ideas
  • Leaders can better understand the additional resources and supports that the employee needs that are “below the radar” of most leaders

CFRs provide intrinsic rewards to employees – and Leaders!

As Daniel Pink outlined in Drive, intrinsic rewards are the largest performance driver (more than compensation!) in most organizations. Dan suggests Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy are the most important three intrinsic motivators. CFRs enable these three:

  • Conversations ensure teams and individuals are clear on their purpose,
  • Feedback makes sure teams and employees are gaining mastery – and where they need to continue to learn and develop,
  • Recognition acknowledges what has been done and gives the teams and employees the confidence to work autonomously.

CFRs provide transparency to what has been accomplished

It’s lonely out there – especially now that so many of us are remote working. How do we see day-to-day progress? How do we know we are working on the right things and making appropriate progress? CFRs deliver that immediate feedback – that goes beyond the “numbers” (KRs) and lets the employees know that the moment-to-moment decisions they make to deal with real-time issues are appropriate.

Imagine a post-COVID-19 world without CFRs

We recently worked with an organization that had a “set and forget” approach to their OKRs. Once they were set, leadership would attend to other things and only loopback at the end of the period. When COVID-19 forced them to work remotely, they saw OKR progress slow, employee engagement decrease (as measured by people going ‘above and beyond’ the assigned work) and interpersonal chatter drop (as measured by Slack conversation analysis).

Employee interviews indicated that remote workers felt isolated, poorly supported by leadership, and unclear on what they were supposed to do.

The organization instituted weekly CFRs at both the Team and Employee level (one hour/week and fifteen minutes/week, respectively) and they saw:

  • Increased OKR completion pace,
  • Increased engagement,
  • Increased social chatter

They also saw the unintended outcomes of:

  • Higher comradery and cross-functional support (as measured by Slack and cross-functional OKR completion rates)
  • Higher Leadership engagement
  • Improved customer satisfaction.