An Apple A Day…

As a busy consultant with clients around the globe, I spend a lot of nights in hotel rooms. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re frequently on the go and log your fair share of time in hotels as well. If that’s the case, I’m betting you’ve developed lots of routines over the years. You have probably established habits for things like: What order you unpack in, where you put your things, what side of the bed you sleep on, etc.

That’s certainly the case for me, and my routine extends to the ritual for checking out, which always starts with running over a checklist before I leave my room. Do I have my keys (if renting a car)? Have I left anything in the room? Better do one more quick sweep to confirm. Is my phone charger (the #1 item left in hotel rooms) unplugged and in my backpack? Satisfied I’m ready to leave, I head out the door, and away I go.

Habits Are Stronger Than Intention

On a recent trip, as I was dutifully going through my pre-exit checklist, a thought bubbled up from my growling stomach, “I’m hungry.” No problem I figured, I’ll stop by the buffet on my way to the reception desk and grab an apple. Satisfied I’d solved that problem I finalized the checklist, turned out the light and headed for the elevator. Just a few minutes later I was sitting in my rented Nissan en route to the client’s office. But, do you think I had an apple with me? The answer, sadly for my empty tummy, is no.

Now you could say that I’m just absent-minded, or was in a rush to make sure I was on time for the meeting, but there is a scientific reason for my forgetfulness. Because I was hungry I intended to pick up an apple on the way to the reception desk. However, I normally don’t get apples on my way to check out and thus the force of my very ingrained checkout habit was exponentially stronger than my immediate intention. Turns out that regardless of the situation, whenever our habits are stronger than our intentions, habits will invariably win.

Create Healthy OKR Habits

So what does this have to do with OKRs? When we embark on an OKR program we’re launching a culture change initiative whether we label it that or not. We’re changing the way we measure performance, the way we conduct conversations, they way we think about results and more. And if we do it well, we’re changing our ability to align, engage, and execute for the better.

In order to make this positive change happen we have to begin to create an OKR Culture; how we do things day in and day out. In other words, OKRs have to vie against the habits we’ve built up over the entire time we’ve been in operation, and those typically run deep. Very deep.

So, how do we begin to sew OKRs into the fabric of our organizations? Well, let’s return to the apple. If there had been apples on the reception desk, or if I had to walk past the buffet to get to the desk, the likelihood of me remembering to pick one up would have risen considerably. Speaking metaphorically then, we need to put the OKR apple in front of our people to start building new OKR habits and changing our culture for the better.

As a global OKR Consultant, here’s how I advise my clients to create healthy habits that put the OKR Apple in front of their organization:

1. Build on habits you already have! Scientists call this “habit stacking,” adding a desired new habit to one you currently practice. For example, I’m pretty certain you have management meetings of some kind now. Take a portion of that time to discuss OKRs, or better yet, use your OKRs to drive the meeting agenda.

2. Make it easy for people to access their own, and others, OKRs. Don’t bury OKRs five levels down in some dusty, rarely used corporate intranet you last updated with meaningful information in 1998. Bring them front and center for all to see and discuss. There are many robust software platforms for OKRs that make transparency and accessibility a breeze. Ensure your teams post their OKRs to a common platform so that review and analysis are simple for everyone. And don’t forget the old school possibilities of poster-sized versions of your OKRs on office walls.

3. Start small! One key to successfully launching any new habit is establishing quick wins through realistic action. If you’re out of shape you wouldn’t charge into the gym, throw 225 pounds on the bar and expect to press it a dozen times. Try that and you’d surrender after one doomed repetition. Instead, start with a reasonable goal you’re likely to achieve. In OKRs parlance this translates to a couple of things: Keep the number of OKRs small at the outset. Don’t burden yourself with too many. And, as noted above, make them aspirational but ultimately achievable.

OKR – Make It A Daily Habit!

They say you can’t compare apples and oranges, but I hope in this short article you’ve learned that you can compare apples and OKRs. If you want to succeed, keep the OKR apple in front of everyone at all times, and before you know it the new habit will be in place.

Paul Niven is a Global OKR Coach with  Build healthy habits with our OKR Framework.