If you are running or leading a business, you will be sure to have heard of OKRs. A versatile, strategy execution framework, that thousands of organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100s are adopting to drive business velocity. OKRs bring the much-needed structure to get teams to place razor-sharp focus on the most important metrics that drive outcomes.
But just as Batman needs Alfred, and Sherlock Holmes relies on Dr. Watson, OKRs need their sponsors to be the guiding compass, the North Star, the wind beneath their wings. Much like the stars of these exhilarating blockbusters, sponsors set the foundation around which an OKR process is built.
As one of the pioneers of OKRs, Google places a strong emphasis on sponsorship. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the company's co-founders, actively championed the OKR process in its early days. They set ambitious objectives and led by example, inspiring employees to follow suit. Google's commitment to OKRs has been a key factor in its rapid growth and innovation. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, sponsored OKRs, and he famously said, “The discipline of setting clear objectives makes you focus on improving the output of your organization.”
In this blog, we will delve deep into the critical role that OKR sponsors play in steering the ship of success within an organization.
Before we dive into the role of OKR sponsors, let's first grasp the essence of OKRs. Objectives and Key Results is a goal-setting framework that was popularized by Google and has since been adopted by many leading organizations worldwide.
Objectives: These are clear, concise, and ambitious statements that define what an organization or team wants to achieve. Objectives are qualitative and inspirational, providing direction and purpose.
Key Results: These are specific, measurable, and time-bound metrics that serve as quantifiable indicators of progress toward achieving the Objectives.
Key Results help leadership and next-level teams call out ‘What does success look like?’ The more lead indicators there are in the Key Results, the higher the impact of your OKRs.
Activities/ Initiatives/Milestones - These are the magical experiments that help achieve the Key Results. Teams keep a sharp eye on these initiatives/activities during the quarter and bring on new ones, to move the metric forward.
OKRs are like ‘Agile for Business’. They encourage teams to set ambitious goals and then break them down into measurable outcomes, fostering alignment and focus across the organization. However, the successful implementation of OKRs requires more than just setting targets; it demands effective guidance and oversight, which is where OKR sponsors come into play.
An OKR sponsor is most often the CEO, COO, Chief of Staff, Strategy Leader, or Business Leader within an organization who takes on the responsibility of spearheading the OKR process.
Think of them as the captain of the ship, steering it towards its destination. While OKRs are like the GPS, sponsors ensure that the journey is smooth, the crew is motivated, and the ship stays on course.
Here are some key aspects of their role:
OKRs is a strategy execution framework. When the company strategy is clear, writing OKRs is seldom an uphill battle. Sponsors play a pivotal role in defining the overarching Objectives of the organization. Ideally, leadership teams zone in 3 Objectives, followed by 3 to 5 Key Results, that should be aligned with the company's mission and vision. The Objectives provide clarity on the strategy, and guide leaders to select high-impact Key Results. This, in turn, helps teams to select the right OKRs, to move the strategic Key Results forward.
Sponsors need to carefully consider the strategic priorities and communicate them clearly to the teams.
For instance, instead of writing broad statements ‘Grow our business to gain market share’, good sponsors take care to make the strategy clear, an Objective statement like, ‘ Grow our premium product lines in North America to increase revenues’ has a much better call out of strategy in the Objective Statement, where leadership and next-level teams are now focused on premium-priced products to accelerate revenues in a specific country.
Effective communication is a hallmark of change management. OKRs are about bringing a new way of work, and this requires managing change. Sponsors must articulate why certain Objectives matter, both in the context of the organization's goals and the larger industry landscape. This "why" gives teams a sense of purpose and helps them connect their daily work to the bigger picture.
Sponsors commence an OKRs process through a strategic narrative, which is a clear call out of ‘Why OKRs, Why now, and what’s in it for teams?’
Here’s a sample CXO or Sponsor message on ‘Why OKRs’ Why Now?’
“Congratulations to the team on achieving our annual target of USD X Million! It took us a team of <> consultants and <> years in the making to achieve this revenue run-rate. While we celebrate the achievement, it is important to look ahead.
My key goal for our organization is how do we get to the next USD X Million, in half the time. To scale, we will have to unlearn and re-learn a lot of what we already know.
OKRs are designed to help us get there. They are agile and simple. As we scale, this agility and simplicity in goal setting are going to be critical. The core intent is to break the seemingly overwhelming goal into a series of smaller targets.
I could not be prouder of our team, and I have complete faith that it is this team that will propel us to our next big success. OKRs will be an important means to the end. I trust you all to invest in this process completely and reach out to me at any stage for clarifications.”
One could even make Townhall presentations to introduce OKRs: Download this Townhall Presentation Template.
OKRs sponsors are responsible for rallying their top team or leadership teams around OKRs. Having the first-line leaders onboard is key to a successful OKR rollout. Leadership teams are considered to be ambassadors of OKRs, and their support is key.
Check out this conversation below between Ian Harvey, OKR Coach and Consultant, Outcomes Thinking, and Vidya Santhanam, Co-Founder Fitbots, they uncover how sponsors can help rally leadership teams around how OKRs can benefit the organization by building the much-needed accountability among teams.
OKRs sponsors are responsible for ensuring that Objectives are aligned by teams with the strategic priorities or strategic OKRs. They need to make sure that the OKRs are set at the top levels and connected and aligned by teams, linking their OKRs to the strategic Key Results.
This alignment ensures that everyone is rowing in the same direction, maximizing the organization's chances of success.
Misaligned OKRs can lead to the much dreaded ‘Watermelon Effect’ where teams make progress, but the company OKRs make unimpressive progress.
Sponsors must allocate the necessary resources, whether it's budget, people, or technology, to support the achievement of OKRs. They need to identify potential roadblocks and clear the path for teams to execute their Key Results effectively.
Leadership check-ins chaired by Sponsors, are a key ritual in sustaining OKRs. Sponsors should regularly review the status of OKRs, offer guidance when teams face challenges, and celebrate achievements. Their involvement keeps the momentum going and demonstrates the importance of OKRs.
A best practice in tracking OKRs, progress, and spotting misalignments early, is by using tools like the ‘Misaligned OKRs’ board. Sponsors can very easily spot ‘Strategic Key Results’ that are misaligned or have diminished focus by teams. Having these conversations early, rather than post facto can save companies up to a quarter of Annual revenue!
Accountability is a cornerstone of the OKR process. When teams set OKRs, there is a clear call out of accountability for every Key Result and activity/initiative that moves them forward.
Sponsors play a crucial role in holding teams accountable for their Key Results, and OKRs are collectively reviewed during Weekly check-ins by Team Champions and during leadership reviews.
OKRs are best managed on an OKRs software or platform, which is easy to use, and intuitive, and enables teams the flexibility to work as cross-functional teams. OKRs software should also give teams the ability to write high-impact OKRs and manage them during weekly check-ins.
OKRs software like Fitbots has generative AI capabilities to write/Co-Author high-impact OKRs, zone in on misalignments early, and predict OKR achievement in real-time.
Sponsors, most often opt for an OKRs coach to coach teams on how to introduce and sustain OKRs. Here is a guide on what to look out for, while onboarding an OKRs coach.
In the journey towards achieving OKRs, roadblocks are bound to arise. Sponsors must be ready to intervene when necessary, whether it's resolving conflicts, breaking down silos, or reevaluating OKRs should there be external or internal blockers. For instance, during COVID-19, Sponsors had to reset OKRs with teams, when there were significant business model disruptions which forced many businesses to move online at a scale like never before. OKRs are not cast in stone and should be agile to change as per changing business priorities or exigencies. Sponsors identify these moments, and guide teams to pivot when required.
Being an effective OKR sponsor requires more than just a title; it demands a specific set of qualities and characteristics:
Sponsors must lead by example, exhibiting the commitment, ambassadorship, and drive towards setting and achieving aspirational OKRs. Sponsors make OKRs the center of their communication and reference them in different ways to keep it top of mind for teams to emulate.
Clear and effective communication is paramount. Sponsors must be able to convey their vision and expectations in a way that resonates with employees at all levels.
Sponsors need to identify the right internal OKR Champion, who can act on behalf of the sponsor, in driving the change. Champions are played best by business leaders or the Chief of Staff, and ensure that teams are sustaining the momentum, and aligning to the most strategic metrics called out.
Sponsors need to think strategically and have a deep understanding of the organization's goals and challenges. They should be able to align OKRs with the broader strategy.
Empathy is essential for understanding the needs and concerns of employees. Sponsors should be approachable and willing to listen to feedback and course-correct as needed.
The business landscape is ever-changing. Sponsors must be adaptable and open to adjusting OKRs as needed to respond to evolving circumstances. Pivoting OKRs is not uncommon during an OKRs rollout.
Sponsors should be comfortable with data and analytics, as OKRs are based on measurable results. They need to make data-informed decisions and guide teams accordingly.
OKRs are not a one-time fix; they require ongoing attention and refinement. Sponsors must be patient and persistent in driving the OKR process forward. OKRs are ambitious, and teams would most often not make it to the 75% achievement. Sponsors need to recognize that outcome metrics take time to achieve and create a culture to accept success and failures.
While the role of OKRs sponsors is crucial, it's not without its challenges and potential traps. Here are some common issues to watch out for:
Sponsors must have a deep understanding of the OKR framework to effectively guide teams. If they lack this understanding, it can lead to confusion and misalignment. Onboarding an OKRs coach can help prevent derailment in an OKRs rollout, and also have expertise in coaching teams to write high-quality OKRs.
While metrics are important, sponsors should not become overly fixated on them. Keeping an eye on the confidence index of teams to achieve the OKRs, the narrative of teams on how they achieved or the blockers on the way, are key to creating a culture of OKRs.
When the captain of the ship gives up, so does the crew. Sponsors need to be resilient to look at OKRs not as a 90-day project and give a commitment for a year to learn and bring in practices to sustain OKRs.
Many KPIs are post facto or lag indicators. While KPIs are important, and call out the health of the business, reviewing only Revenue, churn, customer NPS or E Sat scores are post facto, and pretty much dilute an OKRs rollout.
Sponsors should look for the strategic map of how lead metrics taken by teams, influence or directly move these KPIs forward.
To conclude, sponsors can make a difference between ‘ just introducing OKRs’ and ‘making OKRs work for the business’. Fitbots has enabled 1000s of teams to roll out OKRs with ease. Having worked with sponsors across industries, Fitbots has a step-by-step transformational framework to introduce OKRs, with their OKRs coaching, software, and training for teams.
With over 50000+ OKRs crafted on Fitbots and having certified a network of 650+ Champions and practitioners, Fitbots is a total OKRs solution for companies. Get a free trial or book a demo with our OKRs expert.