What motivates people to do their best work? It helps for them to know how their contributions fit into their company’s greater goals or purpose. But how exactly can organizations give employees that understanding of why their everyday work matters?

Vetri Vellore, a serial entrepreneur, has spent years pondering these big questions. Vellore founded Ally.io to make software focused on objectives and key results, or OKRs—a framework to help align employees’ goals to their companies’ broader missions and priorities.

Last year, Microsoft acquired Ally.io, whose OKR tools are being integrated into Microsoft Viva, the employee experience platform; now those tools are called Viva Goals. Vellore joined Microsoft as a corporate vice president—or rather, he re-joined Microsoft, after having worked there for 14 years earlier in his career.

Vellore spoke on the WorkLab podcast about how OKRs can help companies forge a sense of connection and shared purpose among their employees—especially in hybrid work, when people aren’t together in person as often.

Three big takeaways from the conversation:

  1. A lot of people come into work with “no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Vellore says. “They do something because their manager asked them to go work on it, or because some task management system said, ‘This is the next thing you should be doing.’ ” OKRs can help people “stay focused on the purpose, not the daily whirlwind,” he says. And they’re happy and productive as a result.

  2. People have misunderstandings about how best to use OKRs, which have been around for decades, as Vellore notes. One misconception is that OKRs are only useful for a company’s key business leaders. Vellore suggests democratizing OKRs for maximum effect. They shouldn’t be used as top-down directives, but rather as a way of helping people figure out what they can contribute—which not only empowers employees but unleashes innovation.

  3. In an OKR framework, the objectives should be slightly out of reach. The sweet spot, Vellore says, is when people can achieve 70 to 80 percent of the objective—that’s success. And the idea is to celebrate not only the progress people make but everything they’ve learned. “Success is not about nailing the objective 100 percent or 110 percent, but it is about using that as a learning opportunity to continuously get better and better,” he says.

WorkLab is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of the experts we interview are their own and do not reflect Microsoft’s own research or opinions.

Follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here’s a transcript of the Episode 6 conversation.

ELISE HU: This is WorkLab , the podcast from Microsoft. I’m your host, Elise Hu. On WorkLab we hear from leading thinkers on the future of work. They are economists, technologists, researchers, all sharing surprising data and exploring the trends transforming the way we work. Today we’re looking at how to help employees understand the purpose behind their work.

VETRI VELLORE: One of the things they’re trying to do with the organization is build a growth mindset. Success is not about nailing the objective 100 percent or 110 percent, but it is about using that as a learning opportunity to continuously get better and better. What you’re celebrating is both how much progress you’ve made, but more importantly, how much learning you have had.