OKRs are about lighting fires, not filling a task list

Peter Kerr is the Managing Director of AuxinOKR – a leading UK-based consulting company, that specializes in OKR coaching. In this Voices of OKR feature Peter gives practical tips for a successful OKRs implementation.  

There is no doubt that OKRs have crossed the chasm since the launch of John Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters. It is an inspiring read, but it is not an OKR guidebook.

Many of the enquiries and referrals we receive are from frustrated business leaders who have read the book and then tried and failed to implement OKRs. 

There are many reasons why this happens. The common ones we’ve encountered include:

1. Setting far too many objectives from the outset

2. Introducing OKRs across the organisation too quickly

3. Converting everything the business is already doing into an OKR 

4. Creating objectives that are dull and uninspiring

5. Mixing up tasks with objectives and key results

6. Outside of the executive team, nobody understands why OKRs are important

So how can you avoid these common pitfalls?

“A good start is half the battle” – Plato.

First, start small and remember the mantra, to ‘nail It before you scale it’.

Also, just adding a few milestones to an existing task doesn’t turn it into a key result. OKRs are about change. What will you have to do differently to achieve your goals? Making the distinction between what you are doing already, and what changes you need to make, will help you avoid mixing business-as-usual (BaU) activities with your OKRs.

Then, you should consider getting some help from specialist coaches, who have experience in implementing OKRs successfully. OKRs are not a skill you can learn on a 2-day training course. It takes time and effort, just like learning to play the piano. Think OKR coaching, not OKR training.

Remember to make sure you can communicate why the organisation is looking at OKRs and why they are doing it now. OKRs need to be positioned correctly from the outset and driven with passion and enthusiasm. You must start your OKR journey well. This will help foster a culture that is open, honest, and driven by a common purpose. 

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, always” – Peter Drucker.

One essential part of any successful OKR deployment is transparency. OKRs need to be shared openly by everyone from the CEO downwards. That is why OKR tools are essential for OKRs to work at scale across an entire organisation. For many businesses, this is a cultural shift. Be prepared to build this shift into how you introduce OKRs across the company.

Everyone in your organisation needs to understand why the executive team are implementing OKRs. Create a compelling narrative that explains why the business is implementing OKRs, why it is happening now and the expected outcomes you want OKRs to deliver.

If you are facilitating an OKR workshop, make a point to encourage innovative thinking. Be creative, and you will craft OKRs that are inspiring and aspirational, that stretch and give purpose – all the while promoting accountability. 

Finally, OKRs are about lighting a fire, not filling a to-do list with lots of tasks. If they don’t inspire you when you are creating them, how do you think other people within the organization are going to perceive them? Be honest with each other as a team and do not rush it. 

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