OKRs don’t have to be complicated
Bill Cushard is a General Manager at Learndot by ServiceRocket, helping fast-growing software build customer education functions that drive customer enablement, product adoption, and company growth, based in Palo Alto, California. Bill is also the host of Helping Sells Radio, a podcast about helping customers achieve outcomes with software. In this Voices of OKR piece Bill recalls how he almost gave up on OKRs and shares what helped him persist.
“What ever happened to just setting a goal and going after the goal?” I blurted this out at a leadership meeting three years ago at the beginning of my OKR journey. It was during an out-of-control conversation debating endlessly over the differences between an objective and a key result. We all seemed to simultaneously know, and not know, the differences. By the end of the meeting, we defined nothing. What’s worse, we went through that quarter without any defined goals beyond the usual, working hard on projects, helping customers who needed help, and doing it at a profit.
That was the beginning of my OKR journey.
It was a mess.
It was such a mess, that I was one more unresolved disagreement about the differences between an O and a KR from dismissing OKRs as a method to pursue altogether. Too many wasted brain cycles for me. But for some reason, I decided to persist and on a slide at our next all hands meeting I wrote, “Let’s get good at OKRs.”
I believe we have improved, and in 2021, OKRs have become a habit. Here are three lessons I learned about OKRs that helped me persist and get over the obstacles I put in front of me.
Lesson 1: Keep it simple.
I struggled implementing OKRs on my team for many quarters because I kept getting caught up in the complexity of “Os” and “KRs.” I read John Doerr’s book. Twice. And the more I read about Bono using OKRs to save the world, the more complicated it seemed to me.
“What ever happened to just setting a goal and going after the goal?”
Then, at the 2019 Business of Software Conference I watched Whitney O’Banner, engineering manager at Medium, deliver a talk called, Bottom’s up with OKRs. “Finally,” I thought. “Someone not trying to impress me with OKR wizardry.” O’Banner gave me permission to treat OKRs as a simple process to gain alignment on my team and track progress towards our goals. Thank you, Whitney.
Lesson 2: OKRs are about team alignment.
Once I accepted that OKRs are largely an alignment exercise, our EOS quarterly planning meetings became much more productive. We substitute EOS “Rocks” for OKRs, and spend a solid, dedicated amount of time as a leadership team, working out what our business unit OKRs will be for the quarter.
We start by determining what our top three objectives should be. Once we agree to those, we decide on the key results we need to achieve to accomplish each objective. After this exercise, there is little doubt what our priorities are.
It’s quite remarkable.
Lesson 3: Revisit OKR progress weekly.
We use the EOS Level 10 meeting agenda. In the “Rock Review” section of the meeting, we review our OKR status by asking ourselves whether each objective is “on track” or “off track.” If on track, we move on. If off track, we ask if there is an issue that needs to get discussed in the meeting. If so, that issue goes on the agenda to discuss and solve. As with anything, if you want to have a chance of achieving your OKRs, you must track progress regularly.
We do it every week.
OKRs is a team sport
If I am honest, I still prefer the simplicity of goal setting. Set a goal. March towards the goal. So, every time I go into our quarterly OKR planning session, I have a little voice inside me that says, “Ugh. Why can’t we just set some goals.” That voice is fading because I have internalized that OKRs is a team sport. The process brings us together and helps us create our future.
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