When implementing OKRs, there are several potential cultural obstacles that teams may need to overcome. Some of the most frequent challenges that we see across our customers are:
Command and control culture - when goals are only dictated from the top, you can miss the big picture. It’s important for leaders to remember that they hired smart people, so make sure to harness the intelligence of the entire organization and let ideas trickle up from every level.
Overload (OKRs for everything) - people commonly come up with OKRs for everything, which can cause teams to lack focus and spread themselves too thin, ultimately not achieving any of their goals.
Set it and forget it - often, organizations will spend time coming up with a great plan around goals, and then they won’t discuss those goals until its too late. It’s important to discuss goals and manage conversations throughout the OKR cycle regularly.
Slippage culture - organizations can lack the discipline in making and managing commitments. It’s important to honor those commitments and hold people accountable for what they agreed to do.
Lacking conversation and feedback skills - OKRs require frequent discussions and feedback, so having honest and healthy conversations and check-ins will enable your teams to be successful.
The Agile Mindset
In order to make OKRs part of your DNA, you need to make sure that they’re relevant to your strategy and have a management process in place so you don’t set it and forget it. When building a collaborative mindset you should:
Focus on outcomes, not tasks - rather than prioritizing specific tasks, you’ll want to stay focused on the outcome, not how you’re going to get there.
Make friends with uncertainty - recognize that we are currently in this complex, uncertain environment, and its okay to adapt when we need to.
Speed up the action/learning cadence - its great to have a vision of your future several years from now, but when it comes to specific goals, you want to move quickly.
Harness the power of conversation - OKRs are a team sport, and you should encourage collaboration and transparency.
Prioritize ruthlessly - OKRs are not for everything, and it’s important not to have too many goals.
How High Do You Aim?
OKRs can build a culture of success and achievement, but it’s a myth to believe that every goal needs to be an ambitious stretch goal or moonshot. Success is the sum of small wins, and every team needs a balanced goal-setting approach to stay motivated. Goals traditionally fit into two categories:
“Roofshots” or committed goals are meant to be attained entirely and help to build muscle for goal setting and accountability.
“Moonshots” or aspirational goals are meant to stretch your team at the risk of incomplete attainment. They extend into unfamiliar territory and have a bigger emphasis on dialogue and learning.
Health Metrics vs OKRs
KPIs and how they relate to OKRs are one of the most common stumbling blocks when organizations try to implement OKRs for the first time. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals around your KPIs. But goal frameworks like OKRs need a different way of thinking. Instead of focusing on an individual metric and trying to improve it, the focus should shift to broader outcomes, solving problems, and truly pushing the company forward.
Health Metrics - the things you track to stay in business, like KPIs, which are an excellent way to monitor business as usual.
OKRs - focused on strategy and growth, with outcomes as the primary result.
OKRs are a Team Sport
It’s a common myth that organizations make progress through heroic acts by individuals. While that may be true in a few cases, accomplishments are mostly achieved by teams. Especially now with a predominantly remote setting, it takes a village to get things done. Leveraging the collective intelligence of people at different levels across the organization will enable leaders to have a broader perspective of how goals are progressing, and ultimately make more informed, strategic decisions.
Many people complain about being in pointless meetings all day, and how it can be distracting from “real work.” But a high-performance organization is a network of healthy conversations where meetings are part of the work.
“Dialogue is the core of culture and the basic unit of work. How well people talk to each other absolutely determines how well the organization will function.” - Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Most meetings tend to be around conversations for action, with discussions about what work has been done and what work is going to be done. This can cause OKRs to get stuck in the “set it and forget it” stage. It’s important to have these conversations on a regular basis, in a cyclical fashion, so that they reinforce strategic thinking.
The OKR methodology provides a vehicle for having these cyclical conversations and help to keep goals front and center. When teams have regular discussions around goals, meetings become more efficient and there is a better understanding on the process of these goals.
Start Less, Finish More
“The essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do.” - Michael Porter
Another common misstep to implementing OKRs is having too many goals and not saying no to anything, which causes teams to lack focus. We commonly encourage the rule of no more than 3 OKRs at any level or team. When you’re focused, you’re more likely to achieve that goal. If you’d like to learn more about this principle, you can check out Daniel Montgomery’s book.
Using a Purpose-Built Tool
Unstructured collaboration creates chaos. Leaders need a tool to keep teams focus and aligned towards goals. Especially in today’s remote world, organizations are looking for ways to collaborate. There are a variety of different collaboration tools, but having a dedicated tool to help track progress towards goals can help keep teams aligned and focused. A purpose-built tool like Koan eliminates silos and creates a standardized process for goal management.
If you’d like to watch the webinar on-demand, the recording is available here.
Remember, Koan and Agile Strategies are here to help you no matter where you are on your OKR journey. If you want to talk about anything we’ve covered in this post or learn more about how we can support you, just let us know.