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It’s All Going to be OKR

We make aspirational goals all the time, whether in our profession or in our personal lives. We may not always achieve them, but setting lofty objectives makes for a much more rewarding journey.
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I am a huge golf fan. And by fan, I mean fanatic. I have been playing the game of golf since I was 3 years old. More than just how to chip and putt, the game has been a foundation for personal and professional values.

My grandfather once asked me when I was around 10 years old, “What’s the perfect score in golf?” My naïve response was, “a birdie on every hole, Pa.” He smiled and corrected my response: “It’s 18. A hole-in-one on every hole.” Bewildered by the sheer impossibility of that feat, I only realized when I was older what he was truly saying.

Dream bigger.

Like my grandfather’s response, there’s a methodology in the business world that echoes such aspirations: Objective and Key Results (OKR).

OKR methodology starts with a vision and establishes aspirational goals for company and teams. We might come up short, but the journey we take – the small wins and successes we have, and the setbacks and learning opportunities we use to adjust our approach – all lead us to achieving more than we could if we merely shoot for par.

Objectives & Key Results: A Primer

Before we begin, a thought exercise:

What was the best round of golf you’ve ever played? Why?

Whether you play golf or not, you can play along here. Think of your favorite vacation, meal, or life experience. Dwell in the glory of that memory for a minute:

  • Did you research tirelessly, plan every shot in advance, and stick to it? Did you follow your cart GPS and lay up to perfect yardages? Did you use a green reading book to read every break it has to offer?
  • Or did you “wing it,” take a chance on an unknown? Maybe take some risky swings with a driver down a tree-lined fairway, aim for a tight pin location, or try a flop shot over a bunker?

While there’s no wrong answer, chances are your BEST memory was a little more like the second. Focusing on having a good time and less on diverging from the set path can take your experience from “good” to “epic.”

OKR is a collaborative goal-setting framework that focuses on “epic” outcomes. It is driven by a shared objective and quantifiable metrics that are focused on the destination – not the path to get there.

Because of this focus on outcomes, it’s also

  • Team-oriented. Within this framework, success is measured not by what any one individual achieves, but rather by the impact of the team as a whole.
  • Inspiring. OKRs are purposefully aspirational. While performance goals are generally set to the most probable outcomes, OKRs aim for the best possible outcome. So, chances are, using OKRs, you will outperform any targets you set for yourself or your team.
  • Dynamic. Reorient and reset is the OKR mantra. Movement toward the destination is what matters. This empowers teams with flexibility to seize opportunities along the way that might otherwise be bypassed.
  • Empowering. OKRs lead to commitment and are motivating. Once top-level executives set the company wide OKRs, teams are set free to chase them how they see fit. Since the process is done in a public forum, there is transparency, commitment, and accountability.

“I’m going to win so much money this year, my caddie will make the top twenty money winner’s list.”

Lee Trevino

Making OKRs Happen in Your Organization

Maybe you’ve read this and thought, “This is great, let’s get going!”

Or perhaps you took a seat in Skeptic’s Corner:

I work for a big, old company. When we try to drive change, it’s like steering an aircraft carrier. Assuming my company does not have a foosball table in our office, how do I get this going?

Will this end up like all my school group projects, where one person pulled the weight, but everyone received an A? How do I make sure everyone’s contributing if I can’t reward them?

It might sound like a heavy lift, but here are two things you can do right now to begin transforming the way your company thinks.

1. Pilot the Approach

Find an organization within your company whose leadership believes in OKR and are willing to dedicate their time and resources to implement it.

Start small, but with all levels fully committed. Explicitly link the OKRs to the C-level’s “pet problem.” (You can find more tips for setting OKRs here.)

Do not link OKRs to compensation or performance evaluations. Remember, OKRs are team-driven – you can’t meet your target without a collective effort. If compensation and OKRs are linked, expect sandbagging and old ways of thinking to persist. 

Fund the team – not a specific project. Give this team the opportunity to be creative and learn from it. How does your corporate culture adapt to this shift in perspective and approach?

2. Make the Case for Change

Executive leadership buy-in is essential. Without their backing, OKR becomes marginalized and can end up operating only within certain departments.

The executive team needs to understand, be actively involved, and actively believe in the value of OKRs. By implementing OKR properly at the top, it makes it possible to socialize them across all teams and encourage adoption at the bottom – and avoids some of the pitfalls above.

Identify a particular strategic problem keeping them up at night, and illustrate how OKR can not only facilitate, but accelerate the solution.

Bill Murray eye to eye with a groundhog in a scene from the film ‘Caddyshack’, 1980. (Photo by Orion Pictures/Getty Images)

Advice from Your Caddy

In the game of golf, it’s all too possible to think too much. Arnold Palmer once said, “Golf is a game of inches. The most important are the six inches between your ears.” We tend to overanalyze every shot instead of focusing on the outcome.

Remember that “perfect” can be the enemy of progress. OKRs, while aspirational, also celebrate the small wins and the progress being made towards the vision. These incremental wins can tally up to great results, teams that feel empowered, and leadership support for future endeavors.

Erin Catalina contributed to this article.


Further Advisory helps companies not just to define OKRs, but also to establish an OKR practice that fits within each company’s culture and is positioned for long-term success. From creating aspirational objectives to implementing them, we make strategy become a reality.

About the author

Author

  • Michael Morley

    Michael has over two decades of strategic business and management consulting experience spanning multiple industries. His advisory focuses on large-scale transformations, go-to-market program execution, and IT strategies for clients in the financial services sector. As an organizational change management expert, Michael champions the practice of Objectives & Key Results (OKR’s), helping companies become more disciplined in defining clear, strategic objectives and measuring tangible outcomes.

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