Is OKR a New Management FAD ?

Photo by bonneval sebastien on Unsplash

In the last 30 years, many concepts were introduced in the companies claiming to have been that final solution that it will accelerate business growth. As part of these, concepts like Enterprise Performance Management, Business Process Management, Balanced Scorecard, and Knowledge Management where introduced in the market and promoted by consulting companies & leading business schools of the world. But they had a low impact on revenue growth, enhancing customer satisfaction and launching new products faster. And have only increased the revenue of consultants & consulting companies.

Nowadays OKR (a goal-setting framework for CEO and companies to get execution done) seems to be the hot topic. And every CEO is talking about implementing the same in their company. OKR is a part of the debate that companies need to adopt agile management practices; so that companies can respond to changing market dynamics faster.

New entrants, especially from developing markets and technology sector companies are moving into traditional companies and leveraging the power of Software+Hardware to disrupt the existing business models. And this is happening right now.

Let’s look at a few statistics that illustrate these changes:

  • A third of Fortune 500-companies in 1970 were gone by 1983. And many of those that were in the top-10 in 2015, didn’t even exist ten years before that.
  • The attrition in leadership positions in big companies has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
  • Google, Microsoft, Amazon, NetFlix, Uber and AriBnB are replacing the Coca-Cola, Big Retail, Media House and Established Hospitality industry Companies as most valuable companies.

Though these 20 year old new-age organizations are leveraging technology to deliver the product/services, they are also challenging the traditional management practices. They are adopting new agile principles and practices that enable them to remain closer to their customers, build a more transparent company and build a culture of thinking, planning and execution in their teams which enable them to move faster than existing traditional mindset companies.

But does this mean that every organization must adopt agile management practices and implement goal-setting frameworks like OKR. To answer this, we must under from where the “agile” as a concept came from.

The agile as a concept was first introduced around 2001 to better deliver the software. Before the agile practice came to picture, software’s were delivered to customers using the waterfall model of development. With the waterfall model, customers used to get the working software after 9 to 12 months. And by the time, they have received the software, customer requirement and business process to which the software was catering has changed. At the end, customer end up paying millions of dollars for something which was not near to what is required.

Then came the Agile way of delivering the software, in which software was delivered every 2 weeks. The customer gets the working software every 2 weeks. And the software developers adjusted to the evolving needs of customers. This resulted in customer end up spending less money and is more satisfied with something tangible for what he is paying for.

I have personally developed the software under the waterfall model and agile models. Frankly, adopting agile mindset was very difficult and was a change. People resisted it because it forced them to be on their toes, be more focused & accountable and forced then to be more collaborative across various teams. And you are clearly able to identify who is not performing within 2 weeks.

Now let’s look at the organizational age-old practice like “annual practices of budgeting & planning” and how it gets delivered by people in the company. Leadership team meets before the start of the financial year, sales targets are negotiated, CEO and management pushed for higher numbers and sales heads push back the numbers given and tried to freeze targets which can be achieved. New initiatives that needs to be completed are decided and everyone goes back happily to the workplace next day.

Think of your annual budget and planning process as software. Currently most companies are trying to deliver the budget & planning by following the waterfall model. A better way is to follow the agile way of quarterly process which is aligned with the company annual budgets & initiatives to be completed. Objectives (a.k.a goal) & Key Results(a.k.a milestones or action plan) to achieve the annual plan are created executed, reviewed & updated every quarter.

Frankly, achieving business results (sales plan, marketing plan, strategic initiatives) are different from programming a software. Unlike software programming, you might or might not achieve result (0 or 1) in a day, week or 2 week. But creating the OKR plan at the start of every quarter and reviewing it every month, will help you understand that will the outcome be achieved or not. Or enable you to understand that if you are all this time, trying to achieve the wrong outcome. The current execution design followed in companies leads people to focus on outcome rather then focusing on input that will lead to that outcome.

If I connect the dots, I have no doubt that adopting the agile management practices and frameworks like OKR(Objectives & Key Results) are much better approach to deliver the required business outcomes. What you think?