Accelerate OKRs – Go Slow to Go Fast

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OKRs may seem easy. After reading the famous John Doerr book “Measure What Matters”, many leaders think the adoption is 70% format / 20% application & alignment / 10% mindset change. Reality is often quite the opposite: 10% format / 30% application & alignment / 60% mindset change. This is precisely why adopting OKRs takes time.

This article is part of a larger series: Ten Most Important OKR Accelerators

Leaders that are more process-minded may approach OKRs very tactically rather than strategically. They may equate OKRs to a list of KPIs or annual goals. Only when they start writing and sharing their OKRs, do they realize:

  • For leaders that has been focusing on and funding activities/projects… thinking and writing real outcome-based objectives will feel unnatural and difficult
  • Aligning OKRs with others is not only about collaborating and negotiating… it’s also about leaders having different beliefs and worldviews
  • It takes time for leaders to accept responsibility for shared messy outcomes instead of neatly boxed independent activities they are used to… and this shift often requires new behaviours and even skills

What may have felt like an easy task of writing, quickly becomes an intimidating activity of aligning beliefs and agendas. And that’s where the biggest novice mistake happens “Let’s keep the OKR general and ambiguous.” In other words, “Let’s skip wrestling with this and trying to achieve real meaningful alignment…” NNNNOOOOOO! Whenever leaders choose this unfortunate shortcut, a beautiful angel holding a cute puppy and a purring kitten die in heaven. That’s like buying a beautiful new sports car, then permanently parking it in the garage to simply sit in it once a year.

Accepting responsibility for achieving broader outcomes (often requiring leaders to collaborate and align) VS taking responsibility for completing independent activities/projects (where you alone control the scope)… can take a lot of time. Leaders often need to process and accept this shift. This is especially true for leaders whose entire role is defined by their activity/process. In some cases, OKRs are not simply a new format or process. They may actually require leaders to redefine their roles. Imagine for a second that a marketing manager’s role is not defined by ability to create great strategies or manage their production team. Imagine that instead their role is defined by success of their strategies (e.g. product sales), increase in team productivity, and maintaining low team turnover.

Do you really want your leaders to align and stop creating costly downstream management/priority conflicts during execution? Do you really want your organization to focus on what’s most important? Do you really want to achieve your business outcomes? Then first invest 90%+ on alignment, focus, and mindset change to embrace outcomes, not activities. The remaining 10% writing OKRs will come easily.

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