Why do we need Key Results Owners?

There is a phenomenon in psychology known as “diffusion of responsibility.” It refers to the fact that as the number of bystanders increases, the personal responsibility that an individual bystander feels decreases. As a result, so does his or her tendency to help. This can play out in dramatic fashion on the streets of a big city should someone suffer a personal attack or medical emergency. The more people in the immediate vicinity that witness the event, the lower the likelihood of someone taking action. There is an assumption that someone else will step forward to offer the necessary assistance.

If everyone is in charge of a Key Result, nobody is in charge.

Although the stakes are not life or death, this tendency to avoid direct responsibility can apply to key results. If an owner is not identified immediately upon the creation of a key result, it’s unlikely anyone will automatically take on the role, and an unstated assumption that the key result “will just take care of itself” may take hold among the team. If that occurs, little attention will be paid to the key result and success is unlikely. Therefore, it’s vital to identify someone at the outset who has both knowledge of the key result and what it will take to see it successfully achieved.

So what is the role of a key result owner? Let’s start with what it is not. Being a key result owner doesn’t mean you are solely responsible for accomplishing the key result. You can, of course, enlist the help of others as required to meet the targets set in the key result. It can be helpful to think in terms of a shepherding role; someone who guides the process, coordinating and communicating to ensure a positive outcome. Also, thus far we’ve discussed the role of an owner, as in a singular owner. However, it is possible to have more than one person occupying the role. But, whenever possible you should limit it to a maximum of two people. Any more and the diffusion of responsibility issue may creep into the picture.

Outlined below are the primary responsibilities of a Key Result owner (or owners):

  • Determining tracking cadence: How often will you update the key result? Even if you are using quarterly key results, you must determine how often you will update progress. For some key results, take sales as an example, you could track it daily. Others may only be able to be assessed monthly. Determining the cadence will help you create appropriate questions to be used during check-in meetings throughout the period.
  • Tracking progress: Once you’ve determined the cadence, you must actually track progress during the period. The owner is responsible for ensuring progress is regularly updated.
  • Leading check-in meetings: Checking in on progress during the period is an absolute must for OKRs success. The owner will lead check-in meetings with all those involved in moving the key result forward. This involves determining the questions to be asked, actions to be taken, etc.
  • Sharing updates above: The owner will provide regular updates on progress to those he or she reports to or, if appropriate, the leadership team of the organization.
  • Removing roadblocks: If, during the period, it is determined that a key result is in jeopardy of not being achieved, the owner must (if possible) provide necessary resources or lobby others in the organization to provide the same. An owner must do everything possible to clear the path, making key result success more likely.

Choice is always better than Dictate.

One last thing to consider -and it’s important – is that the role of owner is one that should be accepted voluntarily, and hopefully, eagerly. If the mantle of owner is thrust on someone with little knowledge of, and even less interest in, the key result there is little chance of a favorable outcome. Always strive to find a good fit between the owner and the key result, creating a match that will increase the odds of breakthrough success.

OKRs Coach and OKRs Expert Paul Niven is the author of Objectives and Key Results, Driving Focus, Alignment and Engagement with OKRs, and the founder and president of OKRsTraining.com, the global leader in OKRs Coaching, OKRs Certification and OKRs Training.