SproutMark Expands Into a Full Performance Management Suite with OKRs

Jon wrote this on February 06

We're pleased to announce to the release of OKRs inside of SproutMark! This feature is in its early stages and we're looking for feedback. Please give it a spin and send us feedback at support@sproutmark.com.

OKR-What?

OKRs (Objective & Key Results) is an easy-to-use goal-setting system that implements tight feedback loops to keep your team focused and everyone up to date. Objectives (goals) are defined at every level of the organization -- company, team, and individuals.

To get started, click "Objectives" from your Dashboard, or visit this direct link.

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Enter an objective for your team. Set an owner, alignment, and due dates. Once you've created your Objective, start adding some tangible Key Results to track.

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You can choose between different types of Key Results: percentage, currency, a number, or completion. Add as many Key Results as you'd like, then set the current status of the objective. You can do this by simply clicking the Red (At Risk), Yellow (Behind), or Green (On Track).

Now, if you're the owner of an OKR, SproutMark will ask for an update during your Weekly Report.

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Set the status and update any of the data for the Key Results. As the reviewer of the report, you'll see any changes made to the report and be able to comment on the status.

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Feedback

Once again, OKRs is very much in its early stages and we want to hear from you! Please give it a spin and send us feedback at support@sproutmark.com.

More Info on OKRs

OKR was invented at Intel and is used today by many companies, including Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Zynga. To learn more about the process, give this article from Google a read. Don't like reading? Here's a video!


Huddle Questions

Jon wrote this on March 14

1-on-1's are a fantastic way to keep in touch with your manager. Over the last two years, we've seen tremendous growth with SproutMark as it enables more and more teams to grow together.

Today we're announcing a whole new way to stay in touch and build your team. We call it "Huddle Questions". Huddle Questions allow for group conversations across your entire team.

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In contrast to Weekly Reports, Huddle Questions are meant to connect the team entirely. Questions are setup under the "Huddle Questions" link in your sidebar:

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Consider 2-3 questions to go out throughout the week. As an example, you might start the week asking "What are you working on this week?", then ask a more "ice breaker" question mid-week like "What are you reading or listening to these days?" Then wrap up the week with some reflection: "What did you learn this week?"

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Your team will get an email in the morning when a Huddle Question is open for answers. Then another email the day afterwards as a chance to review the previous day's answers.

Huddle Questions are a great way to stay connected as a team. We hope you enjoy this new feature as it brings your team closer together!


Free For All

Jon wrote this on April 27

After almost a full year as a paid service, SproutMark has done some incredible things. We've heard amazing feedback from teams in various industries -- how SproutMark has helped their teams stay connected and grow together.

Today we're announcing a bold new move for us -- we're getting rid of subscriptions, invoices, and credit cards. SproutMark is now totally, 100% free!

We hope this allows even more teams to join the SproutMark revolution! Enjoy!


Free For Small Teams

Jon wrote this on July 17

We have some incredibly exciting news today! We've heard from some friends and users that they've love to use SproutMark with their small teams. So we've adjusted our subscription plans and are able to now offer SproutMark free for teams of up to 5!

We hope you and your small team love using SproutMark! Sign up today!


Vacation Dates

Jon wrote this on July 05

Sometimes you just need to unplug, take some vacation, and not answer any SproutMark reports. We've got you covered!

When you're ready to head out on vacation, tell SproutMark when you'll be gone. Click "Vacation" in the Settings menu:

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Enter the dates you'll be gone:

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SproutMark won't send you any emails while you're out, and your manager will be told that you're away.

In addition, we've added some additional power to this feature by making an approval system on top of vacation dates. If you as a manager would like to approve the time off request, just enable this feature under your Organization Settings:

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Now, when a vacation date is entered by a team member, they'll see "Waiting for Approval..." for their vacation date. You'll get an email asking you to Approve or Decline the dates.

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And finally, what good is storing vacation dates if you can't keep track of who's on vacation or not?! Click the "Subscribe to Calendar" link in the "Vacation" area for a calendar feed. Everyone's vacation dates will be sync'd to your calendar and you'll be able to tell who's away.


Question Suggestions

Jon wrote this on June 28

We frequently get asked "What kind of questions should I be asking my team?" We think the default questions we start you out with are important, but customizing what you ask your team is an important way to get the most out of SproutMark.

To help you out, we thought it best to provide some "suggestions" when creating new questions for your organization, team, or individual team members. Starting today, you'll find a new button in the admin "Questions" area:

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Clicking one of the buttons will display a list of some of our favorite questions:

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Click "Add Question" to add this question to your list. We hope this new feature gives you some great ideas of what kinds of questions to ask your teams!


Pulse Scores (Sentiment Analysis)

Jon wrote this on December 02

As a team leader, it'd be great to get an over of how your team is doing -- especially over time. With SproutMark, we give you the tools to check in with your team and ask the questions that matter most.

But what if there was a way to visualize the overall health of your team using those reports? We're pleased to announce the release of a new feature: Pulse Scores.

Pulse Scores uses a technology called "sentiment analysis" to parse the answers from the reports submitted by your team. We then assign either a positive or negative number to the report based on the perceived overall positivity or negativity of the answers. Once the report is submitted, you'll see the score in the sidebar:

If you're the leader of the organization or if you've been marked as an admin on the account, you'll also see a chart on your dashboard that shows the average Pulse Scores for each week over the last 3 months:

This gives you a powerful view into the overall health of your organization. We hope you love this new feature! If you have any questions, hit us up on Twitter or Facebook. We'd love your input!


Odd and Even Weeks

Jon wrote this on November 18

Picking the right frequency for a question is very important. Ask that question too much and you risk over-communicating or overloading your team. Ask it too little and the feedback loop becomes too long. This is one of the reasons we provide so many options for "Frequency" when setting up a question. However, the "bi-weekly" option has always been a little strange.

Until now, "bi-weekly" gave you limited control. The system understood "bi-weekly" as any even-numbered weeks of the years. For instance, here on November 18th, we're in week 47 of the year. So any bi-weekly questions won't go out this week. But in certain instances, this puts your team a week off. Some times you do want your bi-weekly questions to go out this week.

So with that in mind, we tweaked the "bi-weekly" concept to allow for odd/even weeks. When editing or creating a new question, you'll now see "Bi-Weekly Odd" and Bi-Weekly Even". This should give you even more flexibility for when your questions go out.

Odd Even Weeks

As always, we love to hear from you! Let us know on Facebook or Twitter how SproutMark is working for you. And if you need help or have any questions, please visit our Help Desk.


Login with Google, Twitter, or Github

Jon wrote this on November 07

We've gotten lots of feedback recently over the desire to login using a 3rd party service like Google+ and Twitter. Today, we're pleased to announce that you can now connect your SproutMark account to multiple services and use these to login without your SproutMark password.

Here's how:

  1. Login (using your password...but it may be the last time!)
  2. Head to https://www.sproutmark.com/profile/authentications
  3. Choose between the 3 providers we've hooked up: Google, Twitter, and Github. Clicking one will take you to their website and ask you to allow SproutMark access to some basic info so we can authenticate you. Once you sign in at that site, you'll be taken back to SproutMark
  4. That's it! From here on out, you can visit the SproutMark login page and click "Sign In With Google", etc.

We hope this change will help speed up the process of logging in and get you into SproutMark faster!


The 2 Biggest Reasons Why Team Communication Matters

Jon wrote this on October 10

A recent survey showed that employees who feel they're being listened to are 5 times more likely to have high job enthusiasm and 21 times more likely to feel committed to their company.

In addition to creating more engaged and enthusiastic employees, an open communication pathway can help you in 2 incredibly important ways:

1. Discovering Critical Issues

Annual performance appraisals can be the norm, but if that's the only time you're asking the hard questions, you're playing a dangerous game. A lot goes on in-between these annual reviews and issues that can be addressed sooner can give you a valuable edge.

Imagine an employee that's underperforming. You might notice a problem after 3 months of sub-par work. But what if you had asked them a critical question in month one? Something like: "How are you feeling? What's the pulse of the team around you?" You might have heard something like: "I don't know. I'm not sure why it is we're so focused on this feature." If you had gotten that feedback early on, you could have jumped on the issue and had the crucial conversation earlier.

Don't wait until problems become too big to handle. Check-in with your team often and spot issues sooner.

2. Receiving Valuable Feedback

You may not always have the best idea in the room. In fact, there are a lot of ideas stuck within the brains of your team members, begging to come out. As their leader, it's your job to give them a platform where they can talk through these ideas. Sure, some may not be great. But that's a chance for you to help them by challenging their thinking. And the ones that are good? They could be the next big thing for your business.

Are you asking your team for their ideas? How well do you receive their feedback? Is your response helpful or hurtful?

Open Up

Start asking these critical questions. They could mean the difference between an employee doing sub-par work, or the best work of their life; the difference between a good idea going unsaid, or it coming to fruition and drastically improving your business.

SproutMark help you you ask your team the questions that matter most. Find out more...


Pass Along With Comments

Jon wrote this on October 02

We've been hearing lots of great feedback about our new "Pass Along" feature that allows you to pass along any answer to a peer, leader, or admin. Today, we're excited to announce a handy add-on to this feature -- comments on passed along answers.

When passing along an answer, you can now add an optional comment when passing along. This comment will show up in the email they receive, as well as the page they view when reviewing the answer.


New Features: Dashboard, Recent Activity, and "Pass Along"

Jon wrote this on September 22

We're very excited to launch 3 new features today!

Dashboard

After using SproutMark for the last few months, we noticed that getting around the app was never that user-friendly. If you're a leader, you start on "My Report", but then almost always click on "My People". If you're a team member, "My Report" is great, but many other areas aren't that useful. Also, as a leader, we were needing a way to know what reports needed to be reviewed. We needed some sort of overview page that gave you a good glimpse of all that's going on in the system.

With that in mind, we're very excited to launch our new Dashboard feature!

Recent Activity

Having a Dashboard gave us a great opportunity to launch another feature: Recent Activity. Here, you'll see information about team members who have submitted reports and whenever someone comments on or likes one of your answers. Check it out on your Dasboard!

Pass Along

We've found the last few weeks that certain answers don't just need a "Flag" -- certain answers need to be shared with other leaders in the organization. Our new "Pass Along" feature lets you select an answer, then choose someone to share that answer with. That user will be alerted and be able to view that single answer. You can share answers with users at your level in the organization, any users above you, and also with any users marked as an "admin".

First step, click that arrow button in the top right-hand corner

A modal will allow you to pick which leader you want to share that with.

We hope you love these new features! If you need help or have any feedback, let us know!


Praise: 4 Best Practices For Rewarding Your Team

Jon wrote this on September 13

I love encouraging people. It brings me incredible joy to give someone a pat on the back for doing excellent work. Frankly, I think we all suffer from withholding praise too often. But during the first few months of being a manager, I found myself dishing out praise more often than I ought.

You see, I was pulled from within a team to lead that same team -- I was now managing and mentoring former peers. I didn't catch it at first, but suddenly, a sudden need for validation quickly rose within me -- I desperately wanted these guys to appreciate and respect me.

Without thinking, I found myself gushing over every little thing my team was doing. It started simply enough: "Great job on that project!" but evolved into me practically falling over myself to point out someone's good work. "Kudos for that well-informed email!" or "Wow! What an incredible single line of code! You're a genius!" By themselves, these bits of encouragement were probably fine, but I was getting out of control and the team began to see through me. My plan began to backfire as I realized that all this praise was making my team distrust me.

Thankfully, a mentor of mine helped me clean up my act. The key for me was to realize the root of the problem was my desire to be validated as my team's leader. This was driving my erratic behavior. Thankfully, I mellowed out a bit and learned a few key concepts for encouraging and rewarding those on my team.

1. Praise Should Be Consistent

Taking a look back at this crazy season, I found myself praising different people for different things. I expected the same level of excellence from each person, yet I found myself praising one person for quality work, and another for shoddy work. In retrospect, I think I found it easier to praise the people whom I most needed the validation from.

Dysfunctional, right?

Being consistent with your praise helps your team know where the line is between average and excellent work.

2. Praise Should Be Specific

Praise is incredibly powerful in solidifying behavior you want to see repeated. Your team wants to know that they're doing a good job, and you can use praise to let them know they're on the right track. But be careful to give someone a high-five without giving them much detail. Go the extra step in providing clarity around exactly what it was that you're proud of. Don't simply say "Great job on that presentation". Tell them why: "Great job! You were very well-spoken, well-prepared, and you spoke slowly and patiently. Keep it up!"

3. Praise Should Be Balanced

Constantly doling out praise without ever correcting behavior is a recipe for disaster. Here's a key thing to remember: that problematic teammate? Your team knows there's an issue long before you do. And by not dealing with the elephant in the room, your team will begin to think you approve of the behavior. Bite the bullet, deal with the issue, and move on. They (and your team) will thank you for it later. (And it makes future successes all the more rewarding)

4. Praise Should Be Public

You may have heard this adage before, but without the first three points above, this one can easily backfire on you. Imagine yourself publicly praising the same guy over and over, while his teammates know you're avoiding correcting a destructive behavior. Or publicly praising someone else while everyone knows his work was shoddy. Public praise can be huge in showing the team what work gets rewarded, but make sure you know exactly the message you're sending before you pop that champagne.

Conclusion

It's a little embarrassing to admit to failing at such a simple thing like appropriately praising your team. I'd guess most people don't suffer from "my boss gushes over me too much" syndrome. But it's the little things like this that can make or break the level of trust on a team.

Praise often, for the right things, and at the right time.


The Undiscussables

Jon wrote this on August 31

I recently had the opportunity to hear Joseph Grenny speak at a conference. The author of such books as "Crucial Conversations" and "Crucial Confrontations", Mr. Greeny spoke with candor about dealing with the tough conversations we've been ignoring. Two points stood out to me the most and I'd love to share them with you.

The myth we believe: you must choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.

When deciding whether or not to confront a co-worker, friend, or family member, we sometimes avoid the conversation because we've been convinced we will lose our friend. This is a lie.

Patrick Lencioni once said that if we truly care about the people that matter to us, we'll give them the helpful feedback that they need. Could things get rocky? Sure. But what does it say about us to avoid giving them the feedback that they critically need to succeed? It would you better for you -- their friend, their teammate, their boss -- to give them the feedback than someone who simply doesn't care.

Stop making excuses and have the conversation you know must be had.

You can measure the health of a team by measuring the amount of “undiscuss-ables.”

This one floored me and has echoed in my head for a few weeks now.

Think about teams, companies, or families where you could cut the tension with a knife. You look around and all you see is dysfunction. Now think about all the things that simply couldn't be talked about. That underperforming sales exec. The CEO running the company into the ground. The engineer who is too valuable to lose. The longer these conversations go without resolution, the more sickness creeps in.

What conversations are you avoiding? Maybe it's time to have the crucial conversations you know need to happen.


Remind Me to Follow-Up

Jon wrote this on August 13

So you’ve got an answer in someone’s report that needs to be followed up on later. Maybe you’ve promised your team member a quick meeting the following week or you just want to catch up and see how they’re doing on that particular answer.

But… you forgot you marked that answer. Not to fear! We’ve beefed up our notification system a bit and now you can get an email reminder on any old follow-ups that haven’t been resolved.

We’ve got this turned on by default for you, but you can always adjust your notification settings by editing your profile.

Happy follow-upping!


Quote from a SproutMark Leader

Jon wrote this on July 30

So great to get good feedback from users of SproutMark!

"SproutMark is a great tool for teams that want to have deeper communication w/o scheduling lengthy sit-down meetings every week."

— Daniel Demoss Host Team Pastor at LifeChurch.tv SproutMark Beta Tester


Follow-Ups

Jon wrote this on July 21

Sometimes you may need to follow up with someone about a certain comment or request. We now support a “flagging” feature that will mark a specific answer on your “Follow Up” list. Just click the small flag beside the answer, and you’ll find it under the “Follow-Ups” section.

Once you’ve taken care of following-up on that answer, you can mark the flag as “Resolved”.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be adding some more features to further enhance this experience, but wanted to get it out to you ASAP. We hope you enjoy it!


Report Reminders

Jon wrote this on July 18

Need to remind a team member their report is due (or late)? Now you can! Click “Send a reminder” when it’s time!


It’s the Little Things

Jon wrote this on July 18

Got lots of reports to review? We just added a “Mark Reviewed and View Next” button at the bottom of the report you’re reviewing.

Hope it saves you some time!


Searching Past Reports

Jon wrote this on July 15

You can now search past reports!

It can difficult to find a specific report from the past. But with our new search feature, just type in what you remember, and SproutMark will try to find the report you’re looking for.


Pumping Out The Features

Jon wrote this on July 06

Been hard at work the last few days implementing some of my favorite features.

1) Bulk user import

For people getting set up or if you’re looking to add another team inside your company, our “Bulk User Import” feature is very handy. Just head over to “Settings > Users > Import Users”. There, you’ll have instructions on how to create a CSV or XLS file for import.

2) Email notifications

We took great care with our notification system. We want to make sure you get notified about the right things — but we don’t want to leave you feeling hassled or spammed by the system. Check out “Notifications” under your user profile for all the emails that we send out.

3) Emojis in comments!

Is it urgent? No. Is it game-changing? Not really. Is it fun? Of course! We now support emoji’s in comments. Just start typing “:” and the first letter of your emoji and you’ll see a nice little dropdown of supported emojis.

Enjoy!


Beta Begins

Jon wrote this on July 01

We’ve launched! We’re currently in Beta with a few close friends who are incredibly excited about all that SproutMark could do for their teams. Stay tuned for a public launch!


Almost there!

Jon wrote this on June 27

Been working hard the last few weeks to get a working product. We’re so excited to launch it and let you try it out!