OKRs are about culture and change

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OKRs are deceptively simple. Reading a book or watching a video may make it sound easy. However, its not a simple plug-n-play approach. Implementing OKRs is about creating the right culture and ecosystem for OKRs to thrive. It’s about a new agile leadership mindset that allows people to show up feeling empowered to make this change.

Let’s examine 5 important nuances to bear in mind, before embarking on the OKR Journey within your organization.

#1 Link to Strategy, Vision, Mission, Values & Purpose

When members of your organization see the linkage of their OKRs to the larger organizational context, it gives people a sense of contribution to the overall top-line or bottom-line of the organization. This is called ‘Significance’ – it’s germane in generating ownership and engagement from people. Ergo, placing trust in your people and socializing your larger business goals & strategy simply allows teams to choose the right OKRs for themselves.

#2 Less is More

Often, over-enthusiasm of leaders may end up rendering the OKR implementation a failure. This is what I call the ‘OKR Ham’. Remember, it's about a new way of doing things and that needs change management. Set people up for early success by making your first quarter cycle about getting a hang of the process. This is about building the OKR muscle. Start with few goals and learn on the go. As you progress to subsequent quarters, you will be able to evolve and get better at it. Conquer the low-hanging fruits first.

#3 Be ready to ‘Fail Fast’

OKRs require you, as a leader, to allow people to learn on the go, to fail fast and improvise. OKRs are about innovation and experimentation. If people are afraid to experiment, fail and learn, you have lost the plot already. Evangelizing a culture of psychological safety coupled with regular feed-forward conversations forms the backbone of successful OKR implementation.

#4 Discipline & Rigor

Role modelling by showing up for your cadence reviews regularly, as a leader, sets the tone for the rest of the company. 70-80% of your OKR success depends on how disciplined you are in your cadence reviews, ongoing coaching conversations and creating a learning organization. Remember, OKRs create agility for your teams, but that agility comes only when you frequently review your progress and share what you are learning and where you need to pivot.

#5 Make it your own

Often, when I ask why do you want to adopt OKRs, the indirect answer is that company’s like Google, Microsoft, Colgate, Samsung, Spotify, Facebook, are using OKRs, and they are successful. If that’s the rationale and appeal, then you may be off on the wrong foot. OKRs work when you understand its framework, nuances and guidelines, then adapt them to suit your context. Training people on how to use OKRs is the critical first step. It helps members gain a common understanding of OKRs and helps them leverage its power. OKRs don’t cascade, they align. This requires great expertise in helping teams to align their OKRs to the higher-level goals. Consider bringing in an OKR Mentor who has experience in OKR implementation for the first few cycles – it pays in the long run.

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Nikhil K Maini

OKR Coach, OKR International

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