Benefits of OKR

We live in a dynamic age, where things are constantly changing, especially for businesses. Companies have had to adapt to ever-increasing customer expectations, adopt new marketing channels, utilize new technologies, and compete at a global level, all in a single generation.

While you focus externally to address these challenges, you need to align people internally with your strategy to move faster. One such way to achieve internal alignment is using a framework called OKR.

OKR or Objectives and Key Results is a simple habit-forming framework for CEOs and companies to build the habit of thinking, planning and executing company objectives and strategy. Few of the benefits your company will get with OKR implementation are

  1. GOAL ALIGNMENT
  2. TRANSPARENCY AND OPEN COMMUNICATION
  3. MONITORING AND ACCELERATING PERFORMANCE
  4. EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

1.GOAL ALIGNMENT

With increasing diversification, employee roles are becoming more and more specialized. With such an acute division of labour, sometimes people can lose sight of what the most important goals of the company are. Employees instead focus on their individual roles within the institution, giving those tasks higher priority. With the help of OKR, setting objectives which highlight the priorities of a company, can help employees work better in pursuit of a common objective rather than compete based on their individual performance.

This also helps in team building. OKRs are more effective at uniting a company than KPIs because they combine qualitative and quantitative goals. The objectives are often aspirational and can create enthusiasm in a certain category of employees like design or customer service departments. On the other hand measurable Key Results create quantitative goals to drive people in the accounting and sales departments. Hence OKR can cause the company to unite around its primary focus so that everyone can be simultaneously working towards the same overarching goals.

2.TRANSPARENCY AND OPEN COMMUNICATION

Transparency and open communication is a very hard concept to achieve. And the challenge only grows as the company expands. Each department within a company becomes an independent unit. While this is great for intra departmental efficiency, what suffers is the realization of common goals, and effective communication. Often the goals of a company are clear, but there is no clear path to communicating these goals. Managers spend majority of their time ensuring that no one is acting on misinformation. OKRs are a great way to communicate and ensure that everyone understands the company’s goals, and how it measures strategies and success. Through OKRs Company goals can be reviewed and set, for a predetermined period of time (example: quarterly or biannually). Once these goals are set they can be percolated down from the executive to individual levels in order to ensure that everyone is working in support of the main objectives. Setting specific and quantifiable Key Results helps to communicate these objectives with even greater efficiency. Since the process is time-bound it creates transparency and eradicated confusion. Key Results also help in breaking down and highlighting small steps in order to achieve a bigger common goal.

3.MONITORING AND ACCELERATING PERFORMANCE

Each individual employee can make a massive difference in the success or failure of a company. That is why monitoring employee performance is crucial. However, there is no clear way to measure this performance or efficiently create metrics that highlight an employee’s work. Most companies simply use financial indicators to determine growth and success. However financial indicators are not enough. Using a meaningful set of rounded performance indicators that can be quantitatively measured is the solution. This is where OKR steps in.  Quantifiable Key Results serve as excellent metrics to judge the progress towards achieving a company’s main objectives. These Key Results are targeted with a specific deadline, and measurable steps, hence clearly indicating the employee’s performance to whom these tasks were assigned.

However ,it is not necessary that OKR is the sole tool for deciding an employee’s value to an organization. Sometimes OKRs can be set as seemingly impossible, but rather aspirational goals to be achieved, to drive people to perform better. Such goals can tend to attract the best people and create the most exciting work environments. Furthermore, when high goals are set, even failing at them can produce substantial results. Google, which is one of the many companies successfully implementing OKR follows such a practice. In their OKR’s they set what are known as ‘stretch goals’ because their achievement is very hard, and unlikely. They then clearly communicate the nature of such goals and create vestibules for success were achieving 70% of the objectives is considered success. And achieving a 100% of these objectives is considered exceptional performance. Because OKRs are always stretch goals, they encourage employees to continually perform the best that they can.

4.EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

Employee disengagement is a very detrimental problem to institutions. The full extent of its impact is only now being understood. Statistics show that 70% of the workforce remains disengaged, and that disengaged employees cost companies roughly $500 billion annually. While the common assumption of why employees are disengaged or dissatisfied is money, studies suggest that more relevant causes could be their bosses, or even not understanding their role within a company, and what their work is contributing to it’s success.

OKR can solve these problems by creating Objectives on central and individual levels, linking these objectives and creating co-dependencies. This will help employees understand their part in the machinery of the company hence creating engagement. It also helps keep executives in check,and prevents them from taking advantage of employees that they are managing by setting quantitative Key Results that measure performance.

To conclude, it is important to remember that OKR is only as good as it’s implementation. It is a flexible and dynamic framework that can provide a lot of benefits for small and big companies, however ,it’s strength lies in adapting it to your company’s needs for maximum success. To blindly follow the OKR practices of some famous companies like Facebook, Deloitte or Accenture can actually be detrimental to your institution. So the best practice would be to follow the scientific method of trial and error, combined with research to generate strategies to implement OKR that best serve your company.

OKR Design Patterns For Successful Implementation

design pattern is a general repeatable solution to a commonly occurring problem. In the context of OKR (Objective & Key Results)  many companies fail at the implementation stage as to how to arrange the OKR’s in a way that can lead to successful implementation and adoption of the framework.

This challenge will come to you when you have understood the basics of OKR and probably have read a couple of books and articles on the subjective. When implementing the OKR in your company, you need to remember that the organization is not made of different parts and pieces but it’s a complex adaptive system. And this system is run by people who have different motives and need to be satisfied at gut, mind and heart level. Any change we bring into the system needs to be carefully thought through.

The question here we are trying to answer is how you will arrange the OKR’s in your hierarchical complex system. There are 4 basic design patterns which can be applied to implement OKR’s

  1. Silo Pattern
  2. Team-based OKR Pattern
  3. Top-to-bottom flow pattern
  4. Top-3-level flow pattern

1. Silo Pattern: Each individual owns the objective and all the keys results are owned by the objective owner herself. Its simple to implement and easy to modify but again encourages silos in the company.

OKR

2. Team-Based OKR Pattern: Its different from silo pattern in a way that the Key Result are either owned by (a) objective owner reports(team members working under objective manager). Or the Key Result are owned by someone else working under a different manager,  but working with the Objective owner to achieve that Objective.

3. Top-to-bottom Cascade Pattern: In explaining this pattern (which means a way to arrange OKR’s) I am assuming that your company has 4 level hierarchy. This OKR design pattern connects the top level execution agenda with the bottom level execution. This means that the agenda of execution is cascaded down till the last mile of the company. But it also assumes that most of the execution is taken care by the bottom layer of the company.

OKR

4. Top-3-level Cascade Pattern: Again assuming that your company has 4 level hierarchy. In this OKR pattern, we connect top 3 levels of the company and cascading stops at the 3rd level of the company. And the 4th level will have their OKR’s based on silo pattern. It is based on the understanding that if the top 3 levels of the company are in sync then we will have a better flow of the agenda.

OKR

If you are struggling to implement the OKR successfully, we will be happy to have a conversation with you and help you in achieving success in OKR implementation. Feel free to drop mail talk[at]qilotech[dot]com

 

Biggest Mistaking in OKR Implementation: Cascading OKR

One of the biggest reasons for failed OKR(Objective & Key Results) implementation is Cascading OKR’s. Cascading means your Line of Business(LOB) Head Key Results becomes the Objectives for the reports of LOB Head. And then the flow of cascading goes own till the last mile in the company. It looks something like this:

OKR Cascading

The 3 major flaws with Cascading OKR’s

  1. If your OKR cycle is quarterly, which means you create and close OKR’s every quarter, then you end up spending too much time going top-to-bottom. What if the cascaded OKR ownership needs to be changed? In 90 days, deciding your OKR’s and then cascading means you end up your entire time in cascading than execution.
  2. Cascading means CXO’s and Managers are not owning any Key Result, which means they are not executing anything. But that’s not true in the real world and should not be true. If that’s what you want to implement, then you are again promoting hierarchy in your company.
  3. Deciding which Key Result to cascade and which to not is not always clear.

We at qilo,  have learned it in a hard way after many implementations. Clients want Cascading, and we have given them what they want. But at the end, any OKR Software success depends on the OKR implementation and adoption by the people who will execute those OKR’s.

That’s why we at qilo, have focused more on 2 things for successful OKR implementation:

A.  Aligning OKR’s with CEO’s Annual Operating Plan or Strategic Initiatives. This approach is bi-directional and works wonderfully. It gives clarity to CEO and his team that as an organization, where we are going, and how we are doing. And for an employee working below the CXO level, it gives them clarity of how they are connected with the big picture. The only trick here is to successfully come up with the set of 3 to 5 business priority statements that don’t overlap and clearly linked with what company wants to achieve in that financial year.

B. Creating Team-based OKR’s: Rather than cascading, create the team-based OKR’s where Key Results are owned by multiple people. These KR’s go beyond the hierarchies and departments.  The concept is bit more difficult to digest at first, as managers want to hold their boundaries and don’t want people coming from different teams and hierarchy coming directly to their OKR’s.  But it beautifully solves the problem of cross-functional communications and collaborations. Mind you, this needs a bit of change management to occur.CEO and/or COO himself has to take the ownership of communicating why we are doing this.

Summary

  1. Cascading OKR’s results in wasting too much time setting OKR’s.
  2. For successful implementation, Align OKR’s with company’s Annual Operating Priorities or Long-term Strategic Priorities.
  3. Creating a team-based OKR’s aligned with the company’s priorities results in better team communication and collaboration.

Objective & Key Results (OKR) for Strategy Execution

Strategy Execution is an Alignment, Accountability and Execution problem. And execution is most of the time a definition problem too. If the company is unable to defining WHAT and HOW of WHAT; how you can expect the execution will happen.

Once CEO and board has decided on the next projects and strategic initiatives to be executed, defining exactly WHAT needs to be done and how it can be done properly and the metrics that will help us measure progress isn’t an easy task.  There are many goal-setting/policy deployment frameworks, but Objective & Key Results (OKR) is one of those frameworks which is simple and easy to implement.

OKR(Objective and Key Results) is a management tool that helps you to translate Strategy Into Goals and Metrics. Andy Grove @ Intel first made the twist to MBO methodology and created the OKR framework when Intel was trying to capture the market. In a way, it is a bit less formal than the balanced scorecard and Hoshin Kanri approach, but it is successfully employed at many companies. Google uses it for example.

There are two components to an OKR, an Objective that specifies what needs to be achieved in the medium or longer term, and Key Results: these are specific shorter term actions that we need to take to fulfill that objective. Key results should be measurable. Since they are used to track progress, they should also be time bound.

Let’s look at an example: Suppose we were managers of a retail chain. Our objective is to open five new retail branches in South East Asia by November. To achieve that objective we’ll need to achieve the following key results.

1) Identify the locations for our new retail outlets. This should be completed by August 1st.

2) After we know in which buildings we’d like to open their new retail outlets, we need to draft leasing agreements, and that should be done by September 1st. We want all our retail outlets to have a similar look, so we’ll need to renovate the buildings a little. For example, painting interior, put the company logo on the entrance, and this needs to be completed by October 15th.

3) We’ll also need to hire new people to work in the new retail outlet. Hiring should be done by October 1st, because we’ll also need to give the new staff some training and so on. This should be completed by October 25th.

4) And finally, we’ll need equipment, computers, POS(point-of-sale) machines. This should be purchased and installed also by October 25th. At any point in time, we’re able to tell how we’re moving towards achieving our objective of opening the five retail stores by November. If it’s October 1st and we still don’t have the locations for the new retail outlet, much fewer lease agreements, we’re in trouble.

By contrast, let’s say it’s October 15th and the managers from our Retail company headquarters are calling to check in about progress.
We’ll tell them that the staff has been hired and trained, and the equipment installed. So we’re done, and actually, we’re ahead of schedule.

This way everyone can see how their efforts fit within what the organization as a whole is doing. OKR framework is a simple, yet powerful framework to align and define what and how of execution.

Watch this video by John Doerr, who introduced Objective and Key Results to Google when they were 40 member team.

Goal Setting gone wrong

In most of the companies, goal-setting is done to either achieve one or all three perspectives mentioned below.

  1. To achieve the annual sales targets.
  2. To achieve the annual operational plan and strategic priorities.
  3. To fulfil the annual checklist activity of performance management.

Ever wondered why all 3 works in silos and doesn’t connect with the big picture? Almost all the companies do the exercise of annual sales target setting but do the half cooked job for setting goals to achieve the annual operational plan and strategic priorities. If done right, goal-setting helps you to accelerate growth, bring alignment and accountability across the organization.

If your goal are not the guiding force of your day to day work, they are not the goals, but just a formality.

There are various goal-setting frameworks that a company can opt to drive their sales, operations and strategic plan. 3 of the major goal setting frameworks that are widely used are:

  1. Hoshin Kanri
  2. Balanced Score Card
  3. OKR

Hoshin Kanri

Hoshin Kanri (also called Policy Deployment) is a method for ensuring that the strategic goals of a company drive progress and action at every level within that company. This eliminates the waste that comes from inconsistent direction and poor communication. Hoshin Kanri strives to get every employee pulling in the same direction at the same time.

It achieves this by aligning the goals of the company (Strategy) with the plans of middle management (Tactics) and the work performed by all employees (Operations). The 4 steps for Hoshin Kanri are:

Hoshin Kanri Step 1: Clarify your current state and identify Mission, Vision, and Behaviours

Your company’s Vision and Mission statements are a good place to start if they have been well written and are still relevant. Answer these questions to help you identify your vision, mission, and behaviors

Mission: Why do we exist as a company? or How is the world a better place because of us?

Vision: Where do we want to be in the future (5-15-30 years)

Behaviors: What are the behaviors that you and your employees should be living by on daily basis to achieve your mission. These behaviors are different from the values which live on your website.

Hoshin Kanri Step 2: Define Breakthrough Objectives (Hoshins)

The breakthrough objectives are mission-critical objectives. These objectives may take 3-5 years to fully accomplish.A few good questions to ask your team to get to these Breakthrough Objectives are:

Q1. In 3 years from now, if we look back on what we have accomplished from now till then, what is the biggest, most significant accomplishment we could achieve?

Q2. What is the single most important objective we need to accomplish to remain competitive 3-5 years from now.

Hoshin Kanri Step 3:  Define Annual Objectives (Goals & Metrics)

Breakthrough Objectives should then be broken down into Annual Objectives. These annual objectives are the basis for your departmental and even individual annual strategic plans.

Hoshin Kanri Step 4: Deploy Annual Objectives through the organization (Catch-ball)

Cascading your goals is a powerful and important part of Hoshin Planning. Each Annual Goal or Objective must be broken down into specific goals and projects for each functional group or team. It is only when each team member has a challenging yet achievable goal that they can see how they contribute to the overall Hoshin Plan.

Balanced Score Card

KPIs traditionally have had a bias by measuring past costs, revenues, and profits but offering little insight into how an organization was likely to perform in the future. Robert Kaplan and David Norton’s balanced scorecard framework, introduced in 1992, revolutionized how businesses connected KPIs to the company’s broader mission. The balanced scorecard, incorporating financial and nonfinancial measures to guide operational and strategic goals achievement.

If you’ve ever seen the Balanced Scorecard in action, you’ll know it’s essentially a strategic framework, divided into four areas (called “perspectives”) that are critical to business success.

OKR(Objective & Key Result)

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a management tool that brings in the discipline to achieve excellence in execution aligned with organization and CEO’s priorities. OKR is a goal setting framework originally created by Intel and later adopted by Google in the way back in 1999 when it had had not even celebrated its first birthday. OKR has supported Google’s growth from 40 employees (when it first started using OKR) to more than 60,000 today, proving that it can be used by small organizations as well as large corporations. Today, both technology and non-technology companies are moving fast to leverage OKRs to enable a high-performance work culture.

Here are a few examples of what objectives could be:

1)  Reduce the variable cost in production by 2.5 %.
2)  Increase revenue from product X by 10%.
3)  Become a more effective sales machine.
4)  Move to the new office by December end to provide a happy environment to employees.
5)  Solidify brand and position as market leader.

And following are some example of ‘Key Results’ with respect to above-stated objectives. There can be more than one key result(s) that can define how one will achieve one’s objectives.

1)  Hire a consultant to review and improve the six-sigma process.
2)  Ensure at least 75% of the sales team members achieve their quota.
3)  Hire three sales managers by end of June.
4)  Identify an office that facilitates company and employee growth for 250+ employees.
5)  Hire a new branding agency by end of Q1.

Whatever goal-setting framework you are selecting, expecting it to work out magically and contribute towards your company growth without the involvement of your leadership is naïve. At qilo, we have seen many implementations succeeding when leadership from the CEO to every business gets involved, and many fail when you implement these frameworks just for the sake of implementing it because someone else is also doing it.