There is a very common use case on how Objectives and Key Results (OKR) goal setting is currently being implemented in bigger teams. It starts with a CEO who has heard about OKRs. Probably from John Doerr’s “Measure what matters” book. Here, we go into more detail about the OKR process.
This CEO has a certain understanding on how OKRs should work and where the system should take them. So the CEO just tells middle management to start using the system. And then waits for the results. And fast, if possible.
And that is wrong on so many levels.
OKRs are a relationship.
Goal setting is so much easier to understand as you think about it as a relationship. At first, you feel excitement. You are enthusiastic and think nothing can go wrong. Everything seems easy and logical. But to really gain the benefits, you must work hard on it.
Many leaders who hear about OKRs, instantly think that this is the system that will move their team or company forward. It is a goal setting system that must be implemented right now to fix the problems their company has.
An amazing system.
And the system sounds amazing. The book “Step by Step Guide to OKRs” says that “OKRs, on a personal, team, and company level make up a system that shows how everything one person does connects to the work of others. If an employee knows that not meeting his goals makes achievements harder for people in other departments, they will want to try harder. When everyone knows how their work matters, it increases overall engagement, motivation, and determination. It's a psychological effect: no one wants to be the weakest link, so they’ll try harder.”
However setting up OKRs is only the first step in a long journey of using them. Like in a relationship, you must understand that this is a long term investment and commitment to a process. Just starting using it will not help you at all in the long run.
Implementing OKRs is a process that takes 3 or 4 quarters. This is the time it takes for everyone in your team to understand how to set OKRs and develop the habit of using them week to week. Often, leaders set OKRs and then forget about them until the end of the quarter. And obviously, they’ll fail. For OKRs to succeed you need to make sure everyone updates their KRs every week.
The main problem here is making sure the leadership, middle management, and employees understand the OKR system the same way and there is a little confusion as possible.
Confusion is your enemy.
In my experience, when people don’t understand exactly what is expected from them, they resent the new system. That is why OKRs require a tremendous amount of internal training both before your first quarter starts an during the first three months, you are using the system.
When you have already implemented the system, it becomes easy to bring new people and hires on board. For instance, BMAT has incorporated introductions to OKR into the training of new hires. “Now, when somebody new joins, he or she is given guidelines by the operational team and they are taught how to use it” said Brais Suarez, from BMAT.
For a relationship to grow and develop, you need to commit to it. And, yes, it is hard. But with each day you’ll learn something new. You start to understand each other better. And in a year or two, you will not understand how you lived without it.