Why Microsoft is betting big on adding goals to Viva

Microsoft has revealed that it is adding goal-setting—or OKR, objectives and key results—tools to its Microsoft Viva suite of HR solutions later this year.

Called Microsoft Viva Goals, this forthcoming solution resides in the subset of fairly new OKR tools, which was introduced by tech leaders such as Google and Intel, to focus on setting goals for employees, which industry experts say is the next hot component for retaining employees and providing a compelling career path.

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“In the old days, companies created thousands of top-down goals and employees got bonuses and evaluations based on goals. Research has shown that this rarely works because things change so fast and many goals are ‘bottoms up’ driven,” says Bersin. (For more OKR insights, Bersin blogged about Viva Goals here.)

OKRs and similar models are designed to let any team or any manager create simple goals, determine what Bersin calls “measurable key results,” and give recognition to employees for their work and accomplishments.

“If we all know what others are working on and what they are accountable for, then we as individuals or leaders can better align what we do and where we spend time,” says Bersin. “Tools like Viva Goals—and Betterworks and others—are helping companies manage this, as opposed to the old fashioned ‘once a year top-down’ goal management, which ERP systems use.”

Bersin is blunt: “This is a massive issue and very difficult to manage.”

Microsoft acquired Ally.io, which counts Intuit and Coinbase as clients, last October to add goal-setting tools to its Viva HR suite. According to Vetri Vellore, Microsoft CVP and founder and former CEO of Ally.io, the solution “helps revolutionize how organizations use technology to bring deeper connection to work, purpose and results in the hybrid world.”

OKR solutions are yet another arrow in the HR quiver that attempts to retain much-needed employees who have few qualms about leaving jobs for better-paying positions at other companies. 

Industry experts agree that setting goals for employees in a remote work environment has been challenging at best. 

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We saw a lot of the process and focus around performance reviewsat least temporarilyfall away, with employees rewarded for experimenting, making do and getting results,” says Rebecca Wettemann, principal analyst for market research firm Valoir.

“HR and managers have new challenges in managing a hybrid environment when the playing fieldby natureis uneven,” says  Wettemann, who cites Valoir’s 2022 Employee Experience study that shows remote employees believe they’re missing out on opportunities with managers. 

“This makes tangible goal-setting even more important, but requires new skills of managers,” she says.

According to Bersin, new research by Microsoft and Betterworks shows that employees desperately want to be rewarded and thanked for their contributions and results, not their politics, style or behaviors.

“Good goal management lets the company be truly equitable in rewards and recognition, and helps employees feel that they will be treated fairly,” says Bersin. “It also helps people feel safe and comfortable—that they know what they’re accountable for, instead of always worrying who is evaluating them for what.”

And that is the goal of Viva Goals, Vellore says: aligning teams around business priorities and purpose.

“As the driving force in a company’s strategic rhythm, OKRs can keep every single employee connected to the broader mission and make sure they’re invested in their own contribution to it,” he says“When clarity, alignment, focus, and integration within the employee workflow come together, teams feel connected to purpose and ready to make an impact—no matter where they work.”

Despite the potential, Valoir’s Wettemann says OKR solutions need to deliver for employees and for HR leaders.

“The promise of OKRs is exciting, but they cannot be just new labels and processes layered over the old performance review mindset,” she says. “Or we’re back where we started.”

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Phil Albinus
Phil Albinus is the former HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children.