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OKRs Align Your Strategy to Your People

This year is winding down, while goals and performance planning for next year are gearing up. To help you get more out of your goals and performance processes, my company, OKRsTraining.com, teamed up for an exclusive partnership with Inspire Software to give you access to “best of breed” strategy, consulting, and software solutions — a winning combination for any organization looking to optimize OKR initiatives to deliver strategic results.

To start, I’d like to share a chapter from my forthcoming white paper called “The ABCs of OKRs” focusing on how OKRs can help you align your 2021 strategy to your people.

But first, what are OKRs exactly?

What are OKRs?

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is a simple yet powerful goal-setting system relied upon by organizations around the world to drive (among other things) focus, alignment, and engagement. The system is composed of objectives (what you want to achieve) and key results (quantitative statements that measure the achievement of your objectives).

How does such a simple methodology drive such outsized benefits? Easy: OKRs operate differently from most goal-setting systems. First of all, OKRs are established, monitored, and updated frequently, typically on a 90-day cycle (although that can vary depending on your circumstances). This frequent cadence allows organizations to be agile in response to what’s happening in their environment.

Second, OKRs demand a relentless focus on what matters most right now in driving your business forward, whether it’s working more effectively to solve customer issues, improving a manufacturing challenge, or hiring the right mix of people to take your business to the next level. OKRs ensure you’re working on the most strategic drivers of success.

We can trace the idea of OKRs to the pioneering work of management guru Peter Drucker through Intel in the 1970s, all the way to the founding of Google in 1999. Today, the system is relied upon by innumerable organizations of all types and sizes.

Why should we use OKRs?

Studies tell us the vast majority of organizations fail to execute their strategies. Estimates vary, but on the low end it’s suggested just 10% of companies achieve the goals in their strategic plans. When implemented well, OKRs can shift those odds dramatically back in your favor.

Get strategic focus for everyone.

OKRs demand that you identify just the vital few drivers of strategic impact and success. When selected with rigor, OKRs help you avoid time-consuming and costly distractions by highlighting the goals that will actually get you to the next level. This requires disciplined strategic thought, but the rewards — in the form of consensus on the true levers of your company’s success — far outweigh the effort.

Align teams across your organization.

A first test of every OKR is its ability to impact overall strategy. Each OKR chosen should have the potential to move the needle on desired company direction. We call that strategic alignment. A second type of alignment is horizontal; in other words, how well your company works together cross-functionally. As teams create OKRs, they will identify dependencies on other teams. These will lead to powerful and strategic conversations highlighting opportunities and reducing redundancies. Generating horizontal alignment is one of the greatest attributes of OKRs.

Engage your people in the process.

OKRs are never created in a vacuum. Rather, they result from spirited debate and discussion among teams with their bosses regarding what priorities they should be pursuing, and why. These conversations are strategic in nature, elevating everyone’s knowledge of the company’s “north star” goals. Increasing knowledge of strategy, and providing a means to meaningfully impact it, drives employee engagement.

How do you get off to a good start with OKRs?

Writing in The Republic, Plato recognized what most of us know, but often neglect at our own peril: The beginning is the most important part of any work. Regardless of the domain, getting off to a good start is critical to realizing ultimate success. That certainly applies to OKRs. Here are three ways to get your OKRs program on the right track from the very beginning.

Know, and communicate widely, why you’re using OKRs.

At the end of the day, OKRs are another change program, and that attention ask is often a difficult one for employees in today’s change-weary companies. If you expect people to utilize OKRs to full effect, the first priority is clearly spelling out your business rationale for implementing the framework. And a hint: “Because Google did it” isn’t an appropriate response. What problems are you trying to solve, and how do you see OKRs providing the solution? Don’t keep that a secret — shout it from the rooftops!

Appoint an OKRs Champion (or Champions).

As noted above, OKRs are about change, and you need a trustworthy guide on this journey. Someone who will serve as the go-to source for all things OKRs at your organization. This person or small team (depending on your size) must fully immerse themselves into OKRs and become your in-house subject matter expert. The Champion will be the first point of contact on important decisions like determining your OKRs cadence, meeting and review schedules, and thorny issues such as whether to link OKRs to your performance appraisal process. It goes without saying that you also require executive sponsorship for a successful implementation. However, it’s unlikely your CEO will play the role of champion. Find someone with passion and enthusiasm for the topic and watch the spell they cast on their colleagues. 

Invest in upfront training.

No, this is not a shameless plug for our services — despite the fact that our company is called OKRsTraining. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of what we see in the field day in and day out: organizations that rush into the system because it seems easy and expect everyone to create their own OKRs with zero education on the fundamentals. What often results are vague, poorly written objectives that fail to articulate the business value they hope to achieve, along with feeble key results that say nothing of how the evidence of success is to be demonstrated.

Get started with OKRs

The good news here is that you don’t require months or even weeks of training to master the model. A few sessions with an experienced trainer or coach will have you on your way to better results in a jiffy.

To learn more about how Inspire Software and Paul Niven can help you achieve your goals in 2021, schedule a meeting today .