The one piece of advice I’d give to anyone about to embark upon the OKR journey

Bart den Haak is the OKR Consultant and Owner of Moving the Needle – an Amsterdam-based management consultancy, focused on agile strategy execution for SaaS companies. In this Voices of OKR piece Bart explains why the rationale behind the decision to use OKRs is critical.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone about to embark on an OKR journey would be to answer this question: why OKRs, why now? Just like with any other management tool, it is important to clearly articulate the rationale behind your choice for OKRs. A bad reason why you want to start with OKRs is: “Because Google is doing it”. Other reasons why you shouldn’t initially use OKRs for would be to increase focus, alignment and transparency. They are very important side-effects of proper goal setting, but they are a means to an end, not an end in itself. 

SMART goals in OKR disguise

Unfortunately, I see so many companies unable to articulate the reason why they want to start with OKRs, resulting in a poor implementation, lots of money down the drain and an extra burden on people’s already busy lives. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with using the OKR format to better describe your current goals. Having personal development goals, project goals or sprint goals, mission goals, visionary goals etc. formatted in the OKR format will bring some value to the table.

However, this is not the power of OKRs. These are merely SMART goals in an OKR disguise. OKRs are much more than the format itself. Can you achieve focus, alignment and engagement using only SMART goals? I bet you can. If all you want is a more focused and aligned workforce, forget about OKRs, you have a more urgent problem to solve.

Painting the picture

Before ushering in change within your organization, be clear with yourself first: Do you know what you want to solve with OKRs? Steer clear from ambiguous “goals” such as: increasing alignment, transparency, and focus. Indeed, they are nice added benefits of a successful OKR implementation, but it is your role as a leader to paint the picture of how OKRs will help solve real, tangible problems that affect everyone. Can you articulate the one, maybe two Objectives that will make all the difference to your company?

Valid rationale

Your real reason to use OKRs should be to execute a strategy you couldn’t easily achieve at a normal rate of operation. To make a business impact or better – an impact in the world.

People always ask me when an OKR implementation is successful. My answer is simple. Did you see any measurable progress on your top or bottom-line results? In other words, did they actually move the needle on your strategic initiatives? If not, then OKRs didn’t help you and you might want to reconsider using OKRs. Maybe you have implemented them wrong and you need help from an external coach. Maybe it’s just too early and you need to make other changes to your organization before you can embark on the OKR journey. If OKRs work, you should see significant changes on your critical metrics. The needle starts to move.

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