Beware of the smart people doing the OKRs implementation

Jerzy Stawicki is the Managing Partner at  JS Project  – a consulting company specializing in project management, portfolio and program management and business consulting. In this Voices of OKR post Jerzy explains why OKRs are like the Trojan horse.

Do you remember the Latin phrase “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes“, paraphrased in English as the proverb “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. It means that you should fear the Greeks, even when they bear gifts. Remember the Trojan Horse ?

Now you might be asking “But what does that proverb has to do with OKRs?”. Based on my experience with OKR implementation projects in the last 2 years – quite a lot. Want to hear the whole story?

The proverbial Greeks

Let’s start with the explanation of who these proverbial Greeks are in the world of OKR implementation and daily operations. Those Greeks are … all the smart people working in companies . By “smart” I mean the people with huge knowledge in one domain, a bit less in others. For example – individuals with vast IT technical knowledge (e.g. in the area of programming, designing solutions, etc.), but with less focus on business management.

They are quick without much planning. Very often they might not listen to what others are saying, because they simply “know better”. My experience shows that some companies, especially high-tech companies are full of such “Greeks”.

Everything can go well, up to the moment when, for whatever reasons, such a company decides to implement OKRs and base its activities on OKR cycles of planning, reviewing, and summarizing quarterly results.

OKRs are easy to understand but…

OKRs are easy to understand, but much more difficult to implement.

Easy to understand as the OKR methodology includes a 1-2 Objectives plus a few Key Results plus a few Actions aimed at achieving those KRs, structured in a hierarchical way, sometimes supplemented with horizontal alignment. That’s all. Well, nearly all, because there is also an OKR process, including some planning, OKR roles and responsibilities. So, at the surface OKRs look simple and easy.

Ask the clever people about OKR implementation and you get the answer – “That’s pretty easy/simple, we can do it on our own. OKR is just peanuts compared to the products we are successfully building or the services we are – of course successfully – delivering”. You can also hear “We will implement an OKR tool and we will be living happily ever after with OKRs”.

Do you see the Trojan horse here? As OKRs are easy to understand, but really much more difficult to implement.

OKRs are easy to understand, but really much more difficult to implement

First, OKR implementation requires solid OKR process (shortly: defining, aligning horizontally and vertically, acting, and reviewing in the short periods, quarterly summarizing) to be established before implementation.

It requires the organization to figure out what they business goals and results they are trying to achieve with the OKR methodology.

It also requires time spent on thinking and planning.

It requires time for executing Actions next to daily business activities, listening to consultants supporting implementation, quick-learning new things especially from outside specialization knowledge, like management and business thinking about results.

It requires also focusing on results, not on products, thinking before doing, patience and discipline.

Do you see the Trojan horse here?

Compare the successful OKRs implementation with the characteristics of the smart people. Very quickly you realize that quite often during OKR implementation the described strengths of these truly smart people become their very weaknesses.

Because they neglect the need for deliberate OKR process, miss the difference between result and product, do not listen as they “know better”, think that the OKR tool is everything and lack the patience. And, and, and…

My advice? Be aware of the “Greeks” at your company (those smart people) when you are preparing and conducting the implementation of OKRs. Do you remember what was the result of the Trojan War ? What happened with Cassandra? Well, it is quite a different Iliad story.

Would like to hear the details of that advice? Well, it is quite a different Iliad story.

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