June 3, 2020

When everything changes, what happens to your goals?

Marilyn Napier
Marilyn Napier
Content Marketing Manager at

Keeping everyone aligned when priorities shift

It would be nice if market shifts, global economic shake-ups, and pandemics happened on a predictable schedule. Unfortunately, they don’t.

For many of us, the COVID-19 impact on business became more “real” after we’d already started planning for Q2 in early March. Our goals and objectives had been written, in some form or another. Our companies were aligned around a direction, and departments were digging into the tactical plans.

Then, everything changed.

We reacted, and if we were lucky or had a product or service suited for situations like this, we were able to keep moving forward. But as we gained a better understanding of the long term landscape (admittedly, an understanding that’s still pretty foggy), we started to shift our mindset.

For most companies, this shift started at the top. It’s a safe bet that your CEO is still reading analysis and consulting with board members, other CEOs, and investors on a daily basis, trying to stay ahead of the curve and up to date on market trends and forecasts.

From there, the leadership teams started gathering insight and talking about the signals they were currently seeing and the ones they needed to focus on. This internal and external insight became the foundation of adjusted priorities.

In many cases, this meant a focus on maintaining a healthy cash balance, keeping customers happy and onboard, and keeping CAC (customer acquisition cost) reasonable.

One of the risks here is that these new priorities stay at the leadership level, without connecting the dots between the staff’s task list and new goals. 

Connecting a New Strategy to Execution

Whether you use OKRs (objectives and key results) or another goal management framework, you need to make sure changes are clearly communicated, understood, and reflected in every aspect of the business.

[Read More: Smart Goals vs OKRs]

Easy to say, but how do you actually do that in practice?

  1. Be transparent around new priorities (and WHY they exist)

Nothing is more frustrating to an individual contributor than a leadership team that keeps the business strategy under wraps. It fosters a lack of trust and resentment, but more importantly, the staff doesn’t know what to focus on. They don’t feel empowered to do their work because they don’t know if it’s the right  work.

When priorities have changed, communicate openly, and through multiple mediums. Send an all-company email, host a town hall meeting, hold department level meetings to gather feedback and answer questions.

  1. Communicate requirements

If priorities have changed, that means focus and tactics need to change as well. What needs to be addressed? What needs to be done differently than it was a month ago?

Be explicit about the expectations for each department and where they should be focused. Give permission to think outside the box to make the pivot successful, but also explain why the current tactics won’t work. Help make sure everyone connects the dots.

  1. Adjust EVERY goal and benchmark

Goals cascade from priorities. If your objectives as a company have changed, and you’re asking your team to shift focus, goals and benchmarks should be adjusted to reflect that.

Ask each member of the team how they’ll know they’ve reached their goals; What metrics prove they’ve accomplished the desired outcome? What metrics prove that at the department and company level? They’re likely different from the benchmarks you had set when you had different priorities.

  1. Map tactics and eliminate distractions

With any change comes confusion. Be rigorous about each employee’s task list and focus. Does each tactic align to the new objectives? If not, what would? Just as importantly, are they trying to do too much, or focus too broadly? Zero in on the biggest value that person can add, and focus there.

For example, when using the OKR framework, each person should only have 2-3 objectives, and a max of 3-5 key results for each. Don’t let people spread themselves too thin as they scramble to change plans.

  1. Establish a cadence and rhythm to track progress

Especially in periods of change, a more frequent check-in process is necessary. Set the tone with weekly meetings to share progress and learnings. Put monthly reviews on the calendar early. Enact daily standups if the team is struggling to make the shift.

[Read More: OKR Questions]

A lot of touch points can be done asynchronously as well. Have your team share updates in Slack or a goal management software. helps teams keep their OKRs front and center, and visible in the tools, like Slack, where work is already happening every day. 

Stay Connected

Adjusting takes time, and it takes attention.

Ask questions. Keep everyone aligned by regularly having conversations about their work and the company’s direction. Be diligent about the process, and find tools to automate as much as possible.

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