The Surefire Way to Improve Employee Performance in 15 Minutes a Day
Well today you’re in luck.
We’re going to pull back the kimono and show you the strategy our team has been using successfully for years to improve each employee’s performance. Don’t worry, it doesn’t require you to purchase some fancy new software or tool.
We call it “Crucial Results” – and it’s a big reason we’ve been able to grow our team massively and 10x our business in just 9 months.
Crucial Results is essentially a system for breaking down your big goals (think quarterly or yearly goals) into weekly and daily tasks so that you spend your time working on your highest leverage activities – and consistently make concrete progress towards your long-tail goals.
Sean Kelly, SnackNation CEO, explains how he came up with Crucial Results when the company was just starting:
“Crucial Results came from a system I designed for myself when I worked alone and from home without anyone looking over my shoulder. The hardest thing is being accountable to oneself when no one else is telling you what to do.
I figured that if every week I was able to achieve my Top 5 action items, driven by 3 key crucial tasks each day, then I could be satisfied with my level of work and keep myself in line.”
We’ve talked about Crucial Results before, but in this post we’re going to take a deep dive into this productivity-boosting tactic.
How Crucial Results Has Helped Our Team Prioritize and Hold Each Other Accountable
Before we go over the step-by-step instructions for creating your own Crucial Results, we want to quickly share with you some of the results that both long tenured and brand new members of our team have to say about the results they’ve seen:
“The beauty of the crucial results system is that it breaks my week into manageable chunks, helps me prioritize by forcing me to identify mission critical tasks, and holds me accountable, both to myself and my team.
The transparency factor is huge too. I can instantly see what teammates are working on, the status of their projects, and vice versa.
And let’s not forget the psychology involved – it’s hugely satisfying to fill that box in green…”
“Crucial Results have made me more productive by giving me a high-level goal overview of my week. They allow me to keep the big picture in mind while tackling my daily tasks.
I’ve used task management softwares and while some can be useful, Crucial Results is just a simple and straightforward method for managing my most important activities each day.
Also, because they are public to my team, they make me more accountable for the work I don’t get done. This healthy pressure keeps me productive, and our team on the same page.”
Ready to see how Crucial Results are done? Let’s hop right in.
Getting Started – Going from “Macro” goals to “Micro” goals
First, it’s critical that managers sit down with their teams and create specific quarterly goals. Your company will obviously have yearly goals, but we’ve found that setting goals for individuals works better at the quarterly level.
Once you have goals set for each individual, it’s time to break your goals down into bite-sized chunks.
Why is this important?
When setting lofty goals your first thought is to look at the final result and wonder how you’ll ever get there. Suddenly, you feel paralyzed to even take the first step.
Studies have shown that taking the first step is the best way to overcome that fear associated with a big project.
So the trick is actually to think small. Break your big goal into a bunch of smaller goals that don’t look so intimidating.
For example, if your goal is to write 10 blog posts throughout the quarter, then you can break that down into smaller, more manageable tasks like:
- Research the topic for my next post
- Find evidence to support each claim made
- Write 2000 or more words
- Copy post into WordPress, edit, format, and add images
- Publish the post
- Schedule an email to our subscriber list
- Schedule posts on facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.
Now you have an outline for what you need to do each week to conquer that goal. Not so bad, right?
Breaking down your big goals into smaller tasks and mini goals actually makes them more achievable. In fact, deconstructing your goals has powerful psychological effects that boost your productive capacity. In a groundbreaking study on educational techniques, researchers Albert Bandura and Dale H. Schunk found that establishing accessible goals helped learners make rapid progress and achieve mastery while also increasing their skill-centric self-esteem and their interest in the subject matter.
The findings suggest we do our best work when we applaud ourselves for completing three sales calls instead of hyper-focusing on our ultimate goal of 500 calls.
To remember the power of small goals, just think of this classic quote from Desmond Mpilo, a South African Anglican cleric and human rights activist with deep personal experience in achieving big change by focusing on incremental actions.
“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
Next let’s go through the step-by-step process for creating the Crucial Results sheet for your company or department.
Step #1 – Create Your Crucial Results Sheet
The first thing you’ll need to create is a simple, pivot-table style spreadsheet in Google Sheets.
To give you an idea, this is what SnackNation’s Crucial Results sheet looks like:
Each person has 1 row labeled “Weekly”, 3 rows labeled “Daily”, and a column for each day of the week.
Step #2 – Plan your 5 Crucial Results for The Week
In the row labeled “Weekly”, plan out the top 5 most important things you need to get done that week. We usually plan next week’s Crucials on either Friday or Sunday. Neither day has a specific advantage over the other. It just depends on which day works better for you in terms of weekly planning.
As your planning you Weekly Crucials, it’s best to avoid listing goals that are not entirely within your control.
For example, let’s say you’re in a sales position. A goal like “Bring in $10K new revenue” is not a good weekly Crucial Result because part of selling (i.e. getting the other person to give you their credit card number) is not something you have complete control over.
What you can control is your activity. So a better goal would be something like “50 outbound calls”.
Here’s a snapshot of how you enter that into the Crucial Results sheet:
Continue this exercise for your remaining 4 Weekly Crucials.
Note: The columns labeled with each day of the week are only applied for Daily Crucials (discussed in the next step). Don’t worry about planning your Weekly Crucials by day of the week. Just think of your top 5 and plug them anywhere within that row.
Step #3 – Breakdown your Weekly Crucials into 3 Daily Crucials for Monday
Now that you’ve set your top 5 priorities for the week, it’s time to break some of those down into smaller goals and set them for Monday’s top 3 Daily Crucials.
You can choose to tackle multiple Weekly Crucials throughout your day like this:
Or you may decide that you’re going to spend your entire day working on 1 Weekly Crucial. If you do, break that Crucial down into 3 smaller tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of that weekly goal.
Note: It’s ok to have Daily Crucials that don’t directly factor into a Weekly Crucial. Things like department and direct report meeting are important, take time and require preparation. Those meeting or presentations can still warrant a Daily Crucial.
Step #4 – At the end of the day, mark your Crucials either green or red
Green = Daily action item was completed
Red = Daily action item was not completed
It’s a simple method for tracking what you were able to accomplish that day.
What’s the point of tracking which tasks you completed for the day and which you did not?
“If you’re constantly assessing whether or not you achieved what you needed to during the day, it’s a good judgment system you have for yourself, and you don’t need much else. Planning and review are both essential! It’s like book-ending your days.”
Coloring that box green also gives you that rewarding feeling of dopamine that helps you keep charging towards your bigger weekly (and quarterly) goals.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s pleasure center. The chemical drives emotional responses and fuels motivation. (Ever been unable to walk away from a video game, or felt a rush when you get a like or comment on an Instagram post? That’s dopamine.) By knocking out small tasks, you give yourself little doses of dopamine that make a day full of work feel as exciting and rewarding as a gaming marathon.
(A caveat – harnessing the power of dopamine is a smart tactic, but remember that dopamine highs aren’t a satisfying or lasting sensation. They fade quickly – which means they should only be part of your overall employee motivation strategy.)
Work goes swimmingly when you’re able to stay on task and get your doses of dopamine, but what happens if you have an off day? What happens when you procrastinate and don’t manage to scratch a single thing off your list? We’ll tell you what shouldn’t happen: self-shaming.
Contrary to many of our personal instincts, self shaming to correct underperformance does not make anyone work harder. In fact, negative self-talk could actually reduce your productivity.
Reporting on a study from Fuschia M. Sirois of Bishop’s University in Canada, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, reveals that procrastination combined with a lack of self-compassion could be a recipe for distress. In the study, subjects who procrastinated and also had low levels of self-compassion tended to feel more stressed. The study’s author explained that the double negative of procrastination and shame can compound stress levels enough to stop people from taking corrective action. Self-compassion, on the other hand, helps people separate their emotions from their productivity, logically evaluate the problem, and move on to a more productive life.
Step #5 – Repeat Step #2 at the end of each day for the next day
The key is to write your next day’s Crucials the day before. Sean explains:
“When you set your intentions the night before, your mind works overnight on those items and you wake-up with clarity, ready to tackle and crush your key action items. So it primes you for success. Furthermore, you don’t waste valuable morning hours determining what to do.”
Setting you next day’s Crucials the day/night before will help you come into work in the morning ready to dominate your day.
When you review goals nightly, you get more benefits than you realize. Reporting on a study published in Current Biology, the Washington Post says that “complex stimuli can not only be processed while we sleep but that this information can be used to make decisions, similarly as when we’re awake.”
Reviewing goals at night gives your brain several hours to process your aspirations and maybe do a little planning. So without feeling like you’ve done any work at all, you’ll wake up with the clarity and motivation to get to work.
Additionally, other studies suggest the sleeping brain can absorb new information and memories and even make the kinds of creative associations that drive epiphanies. People have been using the mysterious subconscious state to fuel their ideas for decades. The Metalearners blog relays anecdotes about famously creative people who forced themselves to the brink of sleep to summon their best ideas. For example, Salvador Dali would nap in a chair while holding a key. When he woke to the sound of the key dropping on the floor, he knew it was time to brainstorm.
To summarize, while you may think you’re just “sleeping,” your brain is busy dedicating your goals to memory and generating innovative strategies to help you achieve them. Make nightly goal review a habit, and your company’s next big idea might just be yours.
Step #6 – Review your week to better plan next week
To get the most out of this system, take some time at the end of the week to review what you achieved and where you faltered.
-Did you set bad Crucial Results?
-Was there something more you could have done that week to have turned a Weekly Crucial from red to green?
-What awesome things did you accomplish that week?
What gets measured gets improved, so don’t skip over this important step
Step #7 – Review your week to better plan next week
After you’ve figured out how to better achieve your Crucials next week, take time out to reflect on why your Crucials are Crucial. What master goals do your Crucial Results help you achieve? Why are these master goals important to you? Healthy reflection on the big “why” driving your work will stop tasks from becoming rote and help keep your motivation burning until you do what you set out to do.
Crucial Results is a proven system our company has been using for years to improve employee performance each week. This has, in turn, helped us achieve some amazing results each quarter.
Try it out with your own team for at least a month and see how it helps your team get more done. Unlike a shiny new tool, you don’t have to worry about learning a new interface.
Are you ready to implement Crucial Results? Let us know in the comments below.