Practicing What We Preach

One of my OKRs for this quarter is to go through all of the many business magazines and books I’ve read over the past several months and extract the nuggets I think are particularly relevant – those I can share with clients to help them on their OKR journey. Not the sexiest of OKRs but it hits two critical points:  1) It’s meaningful to me (AKA inspirational), and 2) will definitely add business value if I can find pertinent information to help our clients.

Sure enough, very early in my work on the OKR I discovered a crinkled post-it note stuck on page 17 of the November-December 2018 Harvard Business Review. Peeling back the post-it, I found an article titled “Making Process Improvements Stick.” As the title implies it offers advice on how to ensure early enthusiasm on an endeavor doesn’t inevitably lead to backsliding. You know how it goes – just another great idea landing in the junk heap of once lauded but since abandoned change initiatives.

Tools To Achieve OKR ‘Stickiness’

The authors offer three ways in which momentum can be sustained , and I believe all three apply perfectly to making your OKR effort stick.

  1. Communicate the program in a clear narrative that aligns with the organization’s purpose. Let’s face it, our teams are change-weary. There is so much going on in modern organizations it’s difficult for even the most well-informed employees to separate the signal from the noise in their environment. The first test any new initiative must pass, OKRs especially, is: Why is this important to us? Answering that question is critical, and to prove effective the response should link back to your core mission or purpose. How will OKRs better enable you to serve the needs of your customers and fulfill your “Big Vision?” Describe that outcome when communicating the why of OKRs.
  2. Direct efforts toward pain points whose easing would clearly benefit employees. What’s getting in the way of your teams doing their best and most important work? Is it a lack of alignment? Or perhaps, more fundamentally, the fact that most employees don’t know your company’s core priorities, and therefore can’t determine how they can best contribute? OKRs can help with these and a host of other organizational challenges. Be sure you communicate these solutions when sharing the why of OKRs.
  3. Ensure senior leaders act as coaches. Chapter one, page one of any book on successful change will declare that executive sponsorship is vital should you hope to achieve meaningful results. In the OKR orbit this translates to executive involvement in the process. Train your senior leadership on how to write (and recognize) good OKRs, and have them mentor and coach their direct reports. An old adage reminds us that ‘Everyone watches what the boss watches.’ Or said another way – ‘As goes the leader, so goes the organization.’ So it is with OKRs.

The Foundation

Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” That is certainly the case with OKRs. By following the advice offered above you’ll ensure your OKR Implementation is built on a solid foundation, and ready for rapid growth.

Paul Niven is a Global OKR Coach with, and author of Objectives & Key Results, Driving Focus, Alignment and Engagement with OKRs.