OKR+A: Focusing on actions to achieve business goals

Carsten Ley is the co-founder of Asia PMO – a leading digital transformation & agile consulting company, specializing in implementing OKRs and other revolutionary project management techniques in South East Asia.  In this Voices of OKR feature Carsten reveals why action management is key to successful OKRs deployment.

Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) are great way to align everyone within an organization and show them not only what to concentrate on in the next quarter, but also how to achieve that carefully laid-out plan. However, the main driver for your success are your actions.

The focus of OKRs when setting company goals must be on actions and execution, hence the acronym OKRA©. OKRA, composed of Objectives, Key Results+ Actions, suggests “getting things done”. This is achieved via initial alignment on Objectives & Key Results, followed by proposing & implementing continuous actions for getting to the desired outcomes.

What exactly are OKRs?

Andy Grove invented it, John Doerr evangelized it and Larry Page famously succeeded with it. The Objectives and Key Results management framework is a relatively simple way for an organization to set goals and achieve results whilst measuring them along the way. It has revolutionized the way an organization communicates internally in a completely transparent style.

Furthermore, it re-engineered the traditional top-to-bottom approach to management, reversing it in such a way that the goals are set by the leaders, and the rest of the organization is free to set its own OKRs. Transparency is key however, as everyone can see each other’s OKRs from the lowest level all the way up to the CEO.

Finally, when using OKRs, results are measured weekly as opposed to the traditional form, with performance reviews set up every 6 months or yearly. Plans & actions are constantly implemented to get close to and complete the key results.

OKR example

Objectives, Key Results, & Actions

OKRA was conceived based on the idea that Objectives & Key Results are planned before the quarter and will only be modified along the way if needed, but actions are the key driver of OKRs during the 3-months achievement timeline.

OKRA

Actions are the final component to this goal-driven management technique that leaves no room for ambiguities. Most organizations will use the fundamentals of Objectives and Key Results to plan their quarterly goals. But then they get stuck because there are no realizable steps to take. In other words, as the name suggests, the Action in OKRA is the engine that takes the design and pumps gas into it, driving it forward.

Business case study 1: Tech company in Myanmar

At the beginning of 2020, we had a productive 2-days OKR kick-off with one of our clients in Myanmar and its 40+ management team. The aim was to review Mission, Vision, Core Values & Company Strategy and to set 5 Objectives and define 2 – 3 Key Results (with measurable values & dates). The next step was to ask the teams to come up with actions to achieve these KRs. During the first month most teams were very motivated to report their actions and results.

However, the KR achievements were not communicated well throughout the company. Therefore, in the second and third month these updates became less and less regular. Understandably, the management lost sight of the achievements until the full review at the end of the quarter. The OKRs were perfect, but management communication that should keep the teams motivated to report their actions needed to be improved for the next quarter.

Business Case Study 2: Start-up in Vietnam

We spent 4 weeks in various online & offline meetings to bring a true agile cycle to define Objectives in a local Vietnamese startup. We did this through brainstorming sessions and ideation, so everybody was aligned and committed to the Objectives & Key Results. The KRs were even broken down on a monthly basis to have shorter goals. The team was committed from day 1; they tried, completed and adjusted actions and pushed for weekly updates of the KRs through their actions.

We realized that people get motivated by the achievements of their daily work (actions) and how these connect to the overall company Objectives & Key Results, rather than being just focused on the OKRs. A further advantage of this start-up was that the built project teams around the OKRs and put Agile scrum masters to facilitate the working groups and weekly update meetings.

Challenges with OKRA

Objectives & Key Results can only be achieved if the actions are reported and measured on a weekly basis and conducted on time. Key challenges are:

1. Teams are excited about Objectives & Key Results at the start but lose focus and motivation on reporting their weekly actions

2. Central unit to collect the actions, results, and their impact on KRs is usually missing

3. Teams do not agree on how to measure the results

4. Not all actions in the company are related to the KRs

While OKRs give the framework to operate at the beginning of each quarter, we our clients helped us realize that action reporting and action tracking is the key driver to get tangible achievements. This, in turn, is measured week by week in route to achieve 70% or 100% of Key Results. Organizations tend to lose momentum when tracking and reporting, and the OKRs don’t get updated. Again, we are back to demotivation and the loss of focus. Tools can help in this regard, but the priority is to ensure consistent reporting from the teams.

Tools to align actions & measure results

The internet is packed with productivity and performance monitoring tools. I can assure you that using a software to monitor progress towards your goals is a game-changer. Choose wisely and make sure that your tool can enable you to track your actions, help you measure results and their impact effectively, automate processes and give enough visibility for everyone in the company.

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