The Mountain & The Quest

At the end of June 2023, I climbed Mount Rainier with a group of friends all in our 40s and 50s for 3 days.  The mountain is located just outside Seattle, Washington and is one of the tallest mountains in the continental US at 14,410 feet above sea level.  Climbing the mountain became a long-term goal for me ever since I lived in Seattle working for Amazon.  A group of us attempted to climb the mountain in 2021, but the Seattle region experienced a record breaking heat wave during the week we attempted the climb.  The weather ultimately prevented us from reaching the top of the mountain due to the extreme heat and the very real threat of avalanches.  Fortunately we reattempted the climb this year (2023) and we were successful.  

Linking the Quest to OKRs

In late June, when we embarked on this bucket list journey to summit Mount Rainier, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the challenges of mountaineering and the strategic approach of OKRs.  As an OKR Coach and consultant I constantly see situations in life which mimic real world situations I see with my clients who implement OKRs.  For example, climbing Mount Rainier involves dealing with extreme weather conditions, altitude sickness, treacherous terrain, and potential avalanches. Similarly, companies operate in dynamic markets with changing consumer demands, technological advancements, and competitive pressures. They need to adapt to these challenges to stay relevant and successful. Setting OKRs helps them identify strategic objectives that align with market dynamics and key results that measure their ability to adapt and innovate.

In my mountaineering quest, everyone in our group understood the importance of meticulous planning and training. Similarly, companies utilizing OKRs emphasize the need for alignment and a shared vision. By setting clear and ambitious objectives, organizations ensure that every team member is focused on achieving common goals, just as my climbing team worked together to ascend the peak.  We had a pre-planned schedule with specific goals for each day of the 3-day climb.  As we achieved each of our daily goals, our confidence in achieving our ultimate goal (i.e. summiting) increased.

Overcoming Challenges with OKRs

Throughout the ascent, we encountered unpredictable weather conditions, steep slopes, and physical exhaustion. In the same vein, companies implementing OKRs may face external challenges and changing market dynamics.  The Covid-19 pandemic is a recent example of an unpredictable challenge which no one expected but everyone had to address.  To navigate these obstacles, organizations rely on the agility provided by the OKR framework, enabling them to adapt strategies and pivot when necessary.  Setting OKRs quarterly which align to annual strategic objectives provides a team the flexibility to pivot throughout the year to face the challenges that every business has to face month to month, quarter to quarter, and year to year.

As our team pushed through mental barriers and physical fatigue, I was reminded of the spirit of continuous improvement fostered by OKRs. By measuring key results and tracking progress, companies can identify areas for enhancement and continuously strive for better performance.  Fortunately, we had experienced mountain guides who provided us with valuable tips on everything from how to make your steps as efficient as possible, proper hydration, smart calorie intake, and proper clothing for each elevation.  They encouraged us to monitor every aspect of our journey so we could make “micro” adjustments as we climbed.  It’s much easier to make small adjustments during the climb than to radically change everything at the end.

Teamwork and OKRs

Throughout the climb, teamwork and collaboration were essential. I relied on my fellow climbers for support and safety, just as companies encourage cross-functional collaboration within their teams through OKRs. By sharing objectives and key results, teams align their efforts, maximize resources, and work together towards common goals.  As the English poet John Donne once said, “No man is an island”, so it is that very few of us are able to accomplish big goals on our own.  We all need a team.  If you use OKRs to align your efforts, I think you’ll be surprised on how much more you can accomplish. 

Once we reached the summit of Mount Rainier, a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment was experienced by the entire team, including our guides.  This mirrored the satisfaction experienced by clients I’ve worked with who have successfully implemented OKRs. Achieving objectives and witnessing key results align with long-term visions brought a profound sense of achievement and united teams in the pursuit of excellence.  Most everyone appreciates the pleasure in setting a goal and achieving it.  I’m a firm believer that OKRs can help teams experience that satisfaction and go even further!

Zack Ross is a Global OKRs Coach for