At Koan, we think a lot about what makes for a healthy “heartbeat” inside teams and companies, and about how adding the right set of regular disciplines actually unlocks creativity and autonomy.
Last week, well-known venture capitalist Fred Wilson wrote a great post “The Heartbeat” about the rhythm and cadence that great CEOs set inside their companies with goals/OKRs, regular product releases, and more. The idea resonates strongly — before we settled on “Koan”, we played around with both a heartbeat and metronome as being metaphors and name inspirations for the company. A metronome marks the time for playing music, and even one of the great acts of musical creativity (jazz musicians improvising together) would fall apart without a common beat. At Koan, we think a lot about what makes for a healthy “heartbeat” inside teams and companies, and about how adding the right set of regular disciplines actually unlocks creativity and autonomy.
There’s potentially a lot of ground to cover, but I’ll home in on how the heartbeat concept relates to having a successful goals / OKRs process.
Running a Weekly Goal Review Process
Checking in on the progress of your critical goals every week is an important positive behavior and at the core of how to use goals to set the cadence of your team. Don’t be like most teams and only formally review your OKRs once a quarter (I kid you not, this is what most people do).
We believe (surprise, surprise) in the value of using a dedicated tool like Koan to run your goals review. However, you can make-do with a Google spreadsheet or the like.
Each week, collect a “confidence score” for each goal or key result (KR). The score represents the person’s confidence that the goal / KR will be achieved by its deadline. Using a red (“at risk”), yellow (“has issues”), green (“on track”) scale is simple and effective. The person that’s accountable for delivering the key result should be doing the rating, as well as any other team members that are contributing work.
Along with the confidence score, collect a qualitative assessment as to why the person provided the rating they did. A red, yellow or green rating is far from scientific, and different members of your team will be naturally more optimistic or pessimistic. The trick is that the rating process forces a judgement that, especially when written down, provides critical decision making data.
Make it ok to be “yellow” or “red”. Getting bad news early is a great reason to have the weekly review cadence, but it’s easy for team members to fall into the trap of hiding problems in the hope they can fix them privately. Collecting a confidence score from a broader set of the team is one great way to keep everyone honest.
Use the review process as an opportunity to review and update the quantitative metrics for your key results. Even if you have an easy way to track and update your goal metrics automatically, it’s still important to regularly assess and discuss them.
Collect the data asynchronously and then go over it synchronously. Writing down qualitative feedback ahead of time yields more thoughtful answers and also offers the opportunity to more easily discover alignment issues. Does one team member believe the goal will deliver successfully and another believe there are major problems? Discuss! By collecting data ahead of time you’ll be able to easily set the agenda for your meeting. One suggested format: review problem goals that need extra attention, followed by a rotating deeper dive on 1–2 of your KRs.
By doing this behavior every week, you’ll find yourself automatically asking some incredibly important questions… Are we working on the most important things? Where are we having problems and who needs help? How do we improve next week? The weekly reviews will also become the living history of your goals and will help you understand over time the patterns around success and failure.
If you’re not already running a formal weekly goals review, we think you’ll be surprised at how effectively it can set the tempo for your team! In future posts, we’ll dig into other behaviors we’ve seen great leaders use to set their team’s pulse.