The Spotlight is on OKRs, and Here's Why

Lesson 1 : OKR Foundations

What are OKRs?

“Ideas are easy. Execution is everything. It takes a team to win.”

John Doerr

OKRs or Objectives and Key Results is being fast adopted, as one of the most preferred strategy execution frameworks for CXOs, Founders, and Business leaders to plan and execute their vision. The framework finds its genesis in Management by Objectives (MBO), also known as management by planning (MBP), was first popularized by Peter Drucker

OKRs are a strategy-execution framework developed by Intel’s Andy Grove and publicized by John Doerr in his book Measure What Matters, with citations with citations to stories from Google, Bill Gates Foundation and Nuna. The framework was created to suit the agile and rapidly changing business climate of today’s times by aligning teams to strategic priorities while measuring the growth and progress of the company as a whole. 

In short, OKRs are used to help optimize the bridge between business strategy and execution. It improves overall business performance by setting a rhythm. 

OKRs are made up of three separate but interrelated fundamentals;

O - Objectives: What do we need to achieve and why do we need to achieve it?

KR - Key Results: How do we measure success?

Tasks and Initiatives: What do we need to do to get there?

OKRs work with a simple philosophy - let’s shift the focus from Me to We. It ensures that teams work together to focus their effort on what is most important, in order to make measurable contributions that will drive the company forward.

What Makes OKRs So Lovable?

Because it prioritizes Strategy Execution in an easy, understandable and relatable manner. This works by...

1. Providing Clarity

OKRs bring with them a systematic approach to goal-setting and execution, which provides amazing clarity throughout the company. By focusing on measurable outcomes, any member of the company has a strong understanding of:

  • What defines success, and 
  • How to progress towards it

Objectives give clear direction on what we need to accomplish. Key Results measure if progress is being made in the right direction.

When we use simple language to construct Objectives, the focus shifts to the problem that needs to be addressed or solved, and not just a bunch of inputs or task lists. In our OKR example above:

  • OKRs give teams radical clarity on what the company wants to achieve
  • Helps connect different teams based on how they can contribute to each Key Result

If you love soccer, you know how teams strategize together with formations to score that winning GOAL! OKRs are similar because they are vertically and cross-functionally aligned. They are not just defined by a blinding bunch of KPIs, but by connecting strategy to action. After all, we all know that work that happens in isolation mostly won’t see the light of the day without glitches and roadblocks. 

Consider the Key Result like ‘improving lead conversion rates from 10% to 25%’ requires all parts of the engine to work together, comprising Marketing, Engineering, and HR! 

Wondering how? Marketing would contribute by increasing MQLs to SQLs, Engineering will ensure security and stability of the platform, HR will align to ramp up and enable the Sales team capabilities.

No matter which team or role, everyone works towards the same shared vision. Check out these Fitbots templates on how collaborative OKRs can be crafted. 

Key Results are what give meaning to the language used in Objectives. They explain the context of the Objective and define the finish line that you need to keep your eye on. The best part? With Key Results, you know how you are progressing towards your desired goal.

2. Building Focus

The OKR methodology is built on the principle of focusing on the vital few rather than the trivial many. The framework encourages teams to zero in on what really matters.

Just because a company is sustaining BAU metrics and employees are working hard on their tasks, does not mean that the organization is set on a path to accelerated growth. This is why BAU is not a significant part of OKRs, and Objectives are few yet focused. Here’s where the 3x5 rule of OKRs sets in!

By applying the 3x5 rule of OKRs, companies can use the time spent on high-effort-low-impact tasks in a much more efficient way. The 3x5 rule states that OKRs at any level should follow these guidelines - 

  • No more than 3 Objectives per quarter
  • No more than 5 Key Results per Objective

Achieving audacious goals is made easier because OKRs manage the team’s attention. Rather than casting out a net to catch all imaginable goals, the team focuses on spear-fishing to bring home the real winners every OKR cycle.

3. Creating Flexibility

This is one of the least understood yet most noteworthy values of OKRs. OKRs are best executed in quarterly cycles. Each Objective is achievable within one business quarter, and long-term outcomes are broken down into shorter goals. By doing so, OKRs incorporate long-term strategic goals and also allow adjusting to change and trying new methods, while reducing the consequences of risks and waste.

The flexibility of OKRs can be equated to the Agile management approach  - driving initiatives/projects with a focus on continuous progress, incorporating changes in strategies with each iteration, while also moving towards the desired business outcomes.

This helps organizations adapt to changing business climates by regular review of what works and what doesn’t work, and enables changes in the strategic priorities whenever the need arises.

4. Boosting Ambition

Using the spear-fishing approach of OKRs, companies feel emboldened to set Moonshot or Aspirational Objectives. Moonshot Objectives encourage the organization to dream big, get creative, and find innovative solutions. This, in turn, allows teams to experiment, try new methods and stretch to push beyond their comfort zones. 

Not meeting the expected outcome is also a part of the OKR culture. Failure is welcomed as an opportunity to grow, especially if your aspirational or moonshot KRs are not met. One should not be so afraid to fail that one does not attempt to reach their stretch goals. 

Even if the Moonshot OKR is not completely fulfilled, teams accomplish more than what they thought was even possible and achieve remarkable results!

5. Bringing About Transparency and an Outcome-focused Culture

Strong company culture is a result of communication, collaboration, and accountability; none of these can be achieved without transparency. OKRs are set in teams and not privately by individuals to ensure this state of transparency throughout the organization.

Another way to keep things transparent yet focused is through CFRs (conversations, feedback, and recognition).

When teams begin to connect and align their work to the larger outcomes bi-directionally and also cross-functionally, there is an increased sense of transparency and a visible decrease in unhealthy competition between teams.

Consider the example taken in KRs; when different teams work together towards a common single outcome, the need to achieve it together takes priority over blaming the lack of support and communication. OKRs help in breaking silos and getting teams to work together in a very transparent and visible manner - if adopted correctly. 

The Final Verdict

OKR is the framework needed to supercharge growth and streamline efficiency in your organization. By using OKRs, your company builds a culture of focus and aligned teamwork.

It creates a system where your teams can prioritize outcomes, measure and track progress against goals, and stretch to achieve meteoric growth. Google and Intel are just a couple of examples of the power of OKRs - when executed correctly, of course!

There are 5 superpowers of OKRs, which if done right help in achieving success with the implementation. These superpowers are Focus, Alignment, Engagement, Cadence, and Stretch. In the coming days, we will get an in-depth perspective on the workings of this framework and how to implement it.

Want to test your OKR quotient? Take a shot at this OKR quiz, and don't forget to note down your score to see the difference before and after the course!

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