5 tips for OKR coaches

Omid Akhavan is an award-winning management consultant, trainer, and coach. He has helped international organizations in areas such as operational excellence, process improvement, business transformation, strategy execution and performance management. He joined OKRs.com in 2019 and since then has been collaborating with Ben Lamorte to deliver OKRs training and coaching around the world. In this Voices of OKR piece Omid gives OKR coaches practical tips for starting an OKRs engagement.

There is a ton of content available for those who would like to learn about OKRs, however, you may not find much quality content for those who lead OKRs projects and/or coach the teams. So, I decided to share these practical tips that come from my experience coaching dozens of clients. Whether you are supporting OKRs inside your organization or coaching your client, these tips are for you to consider before starting an OKRs engagement.

1. Start with Why

It may sound like a cliché but believe it or not, this is the single most important question you need to ask right from the start. It is critical to know why exactly a company needs OKRs and what problems it is going to solve for them. The valid answer to this question is a North Start that guides the organization throughout its OKRs journey.

Common bad answers to this question include:

– Google’s been using OKRs,

– We heard OKRs are better than KPIs

– HR needs a performance evaluation tool, etc.

Good answers reflect the nuances of the current state of the organization and tend to focus on learning and communication. For example, the CEO of a recent client said:

With the shift to fully remote work force due to Covid-19, we must have a common goal language; this will optimize how we discuss progress on our most important goals in the near term.

2. Customize for each & every company

OKRs is a framework with various deployment (design) parameters which need to be defined (customized) for every company before the implementation of OKRs, and continuously adjusted – as needed – in the future. There are no prescriptions or one-size-fits-all recipes, and every company is in a sense unique.

Think about it – should every company have a 3-months cycle, score & stretch its OKRs just like Google does, or necessarily have OKRs at the company (top) level?

3. Pilot with a smaller group

Many companies would like to deploy OKRs for all departments, all business units or even the whole company at the same time right from the start. For obvious reasons, my advice is to avoid a big radical change and instead pick a small scope and run a pilot first. This pilot could include only the company level or a business unit, department, team, squad or maybe just a few of these groups.

After completing the pilot, you can gradually roll out OKRs to include other groups. There have been cases where companies chose to limit the use of OKRs to pilot teams in the second, or even third, cycle to ensure they are ready for roll out. The key is to scale OKRs only once you believe the pilot has been successful. Nail it before you scale it!

4. Worry about the tool later

The question about OKRs software almost always comes up. Unless really needed, I recommend not to use a dedicated OKRs software in the first cycle, and instead use everyday tools such as Google Sheets or Excel 360. Assuming that you are doing a pilot with a small group, you probably won’t need an OKRs tool and such everyday tools would typically suffice.

Moreover, you don’t want to introduce yet another new thing on top of OKRs at the same time. Last but not least, the software may impose its limitations on you and basically dictate how you should do OKRs, whereas you first need to do customizations, troubleshooting, adjustments, etc. and figure out how exactly you want to do OKRs. Once the pilot is completed, your requirements are clear, and you are ready to roll out (scale) OKRs, you can go ahead and pick a tool that best suits the way you would like to use OKRs.

5. Provide coaching, not consulting

In essence, consultants provide advice, coaches ask questions. As well, unlike coaches who stick around for the long term, consultants tend to implement OKRs, deliver the engagement and leave as quickly as possible. They may even be asked to write the first set of OKRs for the company before they leave. Well, nothing against consultants – I myself had been one for many years – I’m just saying this is what’s expected of them.

But, as an OKRs Coach, you are supposed to ask the right questions, share the best practices, support decision making, provide hands-on training, empower and motivate the teams, involve them right from start and guide them throughout their OKRs journey. There could be times when clients hire you as a coach, but then expect you to do consulting for them – for various reasons such as their high workload or being used to consulting work. My advice: don’t fall into that trap. After all, you are the OKRs “Coach”, right?

Note: The ideas in this post are taken from our coaching work at OKRs.com. In addition to helping companies deploy OKRs, we also help OKRs Coaches hone their skills via the OKRs Coach Network (OCN) which is an online community for OKR Coaches. Moreover, Ben Lamorte has been writing his second book, called The OKRs Field Book, specifically for OKRs Coaches. The book will be published in 2021; you can receive a preview of it when you join the network.

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