OKRs are simple but not easy: 3 reasons why
Gracie Koester brings over a decade of experience consulting in the realms of strategy, leadership, and team performance to her role as an OKR Coach at Agile Strategies . She is a Business Geographer dedicated to helping individuals, organizations, and communities generate greater impact and reward. In this Voices of OKR piece she shares the top 3 reasons why OKRs may seem but are not actually easy.
Seeing a well-crafted set of OKRs can be an inspiration to start your own OKR program. However, a polished finished product hides a lot of work behind the scenes. Seen from the outside, a good set of OKRs makes sense: it paints a clear picture of your vision and delineates powerful markers of success.
Embarking on OKR development yourself can unveil a host of challenges. Often I see teams with more OKRs than you can count, let alone remember. Objectives can read like a legal brief, erring towards airtight definitions and assuming no shared context. Key results end up being a list of projects and tasks, tracking output and forfeiting the innovation that comes by instead articulating outcomes. As such, OKRs create more chaos, rather than providing the clarity and coordination they purport.
It looks simple, it feels right, but crafting OKRs is not a walk in the park. Here are three reasons they’re not as easy as you might think:
Powerful OKRs are ones that people keep in mind and take to heart. Keeping them memorable means having fewer; we can only remember a small handful of items. This, then, requires that you say no to some good ideas (at least for now). Traditional strategic planning doesn’t do us any favors here: typically done on long time horizons, these make room to commit to too many things, which leaves teams with ambiguity on where to start. Great OKRs call for ruthless prioritization.
It may seem obvious, but there needs to be agreement from your team on what to focus on. Rowing together you accomplish more. When all of your oars are in the water and pulling at the same time you harness the full power and smarts of your team. When you’re not aligned, you dilute your strength and impede your success. Achieving alignment means investing in time for discussion – yes, live, not via a google doc! – and having sometimes challenging conversations, ones that may have been previously avoided. Excellent OKRs necessitate pointed discussion.
Most of us have been conditioned to see our work as the outputs we generate, the things checked off our to-do list. However, OKRs ask us to come up in altitude as we think about our goals: what impacts do we anticipate from our outputs? Those measurable markers of success are our key results, and quality OKRs must have strong and clear measurability. To harness the power of OKRs, you must break the association that task completion alone is goal achievement. Further, sometimes the most important achievements are hard to measure, so there’s the additional work of finding a suitable proxy. Exceptional OKRs challenge you to measure what you treasure.
OKRs are a two-part engine: inspiring objectives combined with measurable results unleash unparalleled performance and achievement. Along with the allure of simplicity comes a need to build the muscles of focus, alignment, and measurability. While writing your first set of OKRs may not be as easy as you’d like, with practice these muscles get stronger and – yes – it does get easier.
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