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Preparing for OKRs Success

Each time we begin work with a new client at OKRsTraining.com, one of our first requests is that they share with us any strategy-related materials and performance reports they have, so that we can familiarize ourselves with their operations. We anticipate they’ll provide a Mission statement, Vision statement, perhaps a charter of shared values, their strategic plan, and of course their key metrics of performance. But, not surprisingly, reality often differs from our expectations, sometimes dramatically.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to subsequently flood our inboxes with dozens of so-called strategic documents and performance reports, some that – judging by the date of creation – have been floating around the organization like a ship without a harbor for many years.

Here’s a partial list of documents we received from one organization:

  • KPIs
  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Big Vision
  • Values
  • Imperatives
  • Big Rocks
  • Initiatives
  • Strategic themes
  • Scorecard
  • Dashboard

As noted above, at least a few of these hadn’t seen the light of day for some time, but they remained floating at the periphery of organizational attention nonetheless, occupying at least a small portion of employee mindshare. And therein lies the problem. David Allen, author of the bestselling book “Getting Things Done,” said it best: “Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an ‘open loop,’ which will be pulling on your attention if it’s not appropriately managed.”

There are innumerable things vying for employee attention in today’s workplace; endless open loops that, rather than providing clarity, often confuse and obfuscate decision-making and resource allocation. Thus it’s imperative that before you begin using OKRs you determine where your current roster of performance systems and strategy tools fit in the overall landscape you employ to drive strategy execution. Hopefully, you subscribe to the ‘single version of the truth’ doctrine and will allow the OKRs system to hold that place in the hierarchy. If that’s the case you must diligently root out all potentially competing systems and artifacts, dismissing those
that are no longer relevant or add value. With ‘strategy document spring cleaning’ out of the way you can communicate why you’ve chosen OKRs, and why now, to ensure you execute your unique strategy.

If you’re reading this and agree with the advice offered, you’re not necessarily in the clear quite yet. The possibility exists that you’ll face the organizational equivalent of hoarding, with executives either blissfully unaware of the plethora of materials scattered throughout their orbit or consciously choosing to ignore the strategic clutter.

That was in fact the case with a client we worked with not long ago.

Our primary contact, let’s call her Kathy, recognized the need to reduce the strategic noise level, but other executives failed to recognize the magnitude of the problem. So Kathy came up with a clever solution. In a simple online survey, she asked executives how many performance reports they thought the company issued each month, and which reports were of greatest value to them. Kathy knew the organization was producing in excess of a dozen reports every month, many of which had been around for years and were of dubious value, but had become sacred for no real reason.

She then assembled all of the reports for just one month and spread them on a conference room table. Also on the table were individual placards with executive guesses to the number of reports produced and names of the most valuable reports. The executive team was invited into the room and were immediately shocked the by reams of paper on the table. When it came to knowing how many reports were actually produced each month, not a single executive came close to accurately gauging the correct number, with most proposing two or three. Also revealing were the placards noting which reports the executives identified as valuable, because most of those were blank. In other words, a majority of the executive team found the current reports virtually useless for their most critical tasks of strategic learning and decision-making.

Kathy used the demonstration to lead a discussion of OKRs, focusing on how the company could use the framework as the one source to ignite strategic discussions during executive team meetings. The case for change was clear, the path ahead uncluttered, and OKRs were successfully adopted.