A Pragmatic Approach for Finding Agility with OKRs
This is not business as usual. The economic and societal impacts of COVID-19 will be profound, and your business is likely already facing some incredibly difficult challenges (including employees working remotely from home). Now more than ever, it’s critical to have a robust goals (OKRs) process to bring clarity and focus to your team. Below you’ll find the pragmatic advice that we’re offering our customers after having worked with hundreds of organizations to implement OKRs.
Don’t Wait to Take Action
The yearly objectives you set for 2020 and even the OKRs you set for the first quarter of the year are now likely wildly out of date. Even in normal times, we advise companies that it’s ok to adjust your Objectives or Key Results mid-stream when there are big changes to your business. Now we’re all being forced to reckon with massive upheavals in the world around us, and the worst thing you can do is to leave your company rudderless by not acknowledging reality and updating your goals. By the same token, panic and strategic thrashing will just confuse your team more. Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Reaffirm the goals that are still relevant
Comb through your company-level, departmental and team OKRs and pick out the ones that are still critically important. If necessary, update the Key Results to match reality. For example: you may need to plan for longer sales cycles if you’re an enterprise software company, for lost customers if you’re a consumer startup, or to provide extra focus on customer service if you’re in the travel industry. Communicate to the entire company that these goals still matter, and update everyone on which expectations have changed.
Step 2: Close out everything else
Virtually every team and organization struggles with setting too many goals even in good times. Now it’s more important than ever to focus on what’s most important, plus to free up resources so that you can invest where it counts. Close out every Objective and Key Results that’s not critically important.
Step 3: Create goals to cover new priorities
Have focused discussions in your team to plan out the areas of your business that now need critical focus, plus to identify new opportunities. For example, perhaps it will be an important investment to update your marketing efforts to emphasize how your product can help customers do more with less.
Prepare to Run a Remote Planning Cycle
You’ll likely be running your next planning cycle (e.g. for Q2) as a remote team, perhaps for the first time. Instead of trying to replicate your existing in-person off-sites through Zoom, we recommend making some adjustments. And by the way, these changes will make your in-person planning sessions in the future better too:
Step 1: Document your process
Write down your OKR planning process expectations including due dates and feedback loops in an OKR playbook. By actually writing down your process, you’ll move from an ad-hoc system into one that’s more repeatable and that can improve every cycle.
Step 2: Start with Draft Objectives
Whether you’re running planning for company level goals or creating OKRs at the team level, you can speed up and improve the planning process by arriving to the first meeting with strong draft objectives instead of a blank slate. Ask the team for specific suggestions about how to improve the draft Objectives.
Step 3: Async Feedback Loops
Move feedback on draft OKRs to be asynchronous wherever possible. Make it clear what feedback is required and on what timeline. Use a tool that makes it easy for effortless and transparent feedback and commenting (this can be as simple as using Google Docs). Consider for async: feedback from “up the reporting chain” (e.g. from your boss), peer feedback and alignment, cross-team dependency negotiation, and resource and capacity planning.
For more tips on remote planning plus an in-depth discussion and Q&A, join our upcoming webinar for Chiefs of Staff and other operational leaders about best practices for running a remote OKRs planning cycle.
Simplify the Process and Review Your Goals Weekly
Many teams make their OKRs process too heavy, especially during the planning process. Some things we see all too often:
An overwhelming number of Objectives and Key Results at every level, often conflating tasks with outcomes.
A purely top-down planning process / cascading goals, instead of leveraging bottom-up innovation as well.
Rollout of OKRs all the way to individuals instead of stopping at the team level, which can conflate OKRs with performance management and get in the way of alignment.
A planning process that takes so long that goals don’t get finalized until several weeks into the quarter.
After an exhausting OKR setting process, it can be all too tempting to “set and forget” your goals. But doing so means that you’ll have done a lot of work without getting much benefit. Instead, simplify your goal setting process as much as possible and then drive relentless forward progress on them by putting in place weekly goals review (this can be part of your staff meeting). Weekly goals reviews will drive transparency, alignment and accountability across the company and will help you constantly move the needle on your strategic priorities. It will also be a forum for continued discussions about how to remain agile as business circumstances continue to change.
We’re living through challenging times that will test every team and company in a fundamental way. Your OKRs can be an amazing tool for keeping your team focused and agile. The positive habits you’ll build now will not only help you survive, but will make you a stronger company that’s better able to execute its strategy for years to come.