Setting effective goals doesn’t come naturally. It takes time and effort to write technically sound OKRs. But it doesn’t matter how well your OKRs are written if you don’t have the supporting structure to make them happen. You need governance – the structures or processes to ensure that you can drive the things that matter around OKRs: accountability, alignment, and focus.
Setting up an OKRs program does not magically increase accountability – or alignment or focus, for that matter. When it comes to accountability, you need two supporting structures in place.
The first supporting structure is negotiation. Good OKRs come out of a negotiation process. After a team gets together and writes OKRs, they should be shared with the boss and there should be a good discussion about:
- Do these OKRs reflect the strategy of the organization?
- Do they demonstrate an understanding of where the company wants to go?
- Are we clearly signaling what our contribution is?
- Is the level of stretch appropriate?
It’s commonly said that OKRs should be written bottoms up, but they also need-top down discussion to ensure that you arrive at something that will provide business value.
The second supporting structure to ensure accountability is the retrospective. People tend to set OKRs and then forget about them. At the end of the quarter, retrospectives are vital. It’s not just reporting out scores on the OKR, but looking at what was learned about the business. What happened? Why did it happen? Did we choose the right OKRs? Were they actually measurable? Did our OKRs demonstrate value to the company? Did they provide value to our customers?
Companies commonly adopt OKRs because they want to foster alignment in the organization. However, achieving alignment is also a common struggle companies encounter in their OKR programs.
There are two types of alignment: strategic and horizontal. Strategic refers to how the impact of an objective aligns strategically. This is vertical alignment, and the negotiation process helps here.
Horizontal alignment refers to alignment with other teams. It’s about working better cross-functionally. Employees typically feel like they can rely on their own boss, direct reports, and team members, but their confidence in the reliability of other departments plunges. That’s a problem, because so much of today’s work happens in cross-functional teams. The OKRs process can help with horizontal alignment if you use a governance process to assist you.
When writing OKRs, carefully document dependencies. In other words, determine who in the organization can help with an OKR, and what specific assistance is needed. Then have a meeting with the department and talk about the dependencies and determine whether or not they have the bandwidth to help. If the other department says yes, great. If they say no, then your case is not hopeless. Simply escalate it to the next level of management or leadership. Doing so will force prioritization, and that’s a good thing. At some point, someone has to decide if an OKR is of strategic importance for the company to move forward.
The big underlying theme of OKRs is focus. Organizations want to get more focused. Unfortunately, this is the attribute that’s most prone to the law of unintended consequences. OKRs are not a contest to show how busy you are. The whole point of OKRs is to say, what’s important right now? What’s a big win for us to focus on?
The key to writing focused OKRs is to take the time to write good, value-driving OKRs. The more thought and discipline that’s put into writing a specific goal, the more committed the writer will be to attain it. When an OKR is quick and vague, you aren’t committed to it, and you don’t know where to start to attain it. If the focus is a problem for your organization, have people write one well-thought-out OKR for the quarter. Simply writing an ORK only gets you so far. You need the supporting structure to make them happen, and the tips in this blog post can help. But if you think that the problem is in the OKRs themselves, then learn how to take your OKRs to the next level in our on-demand webcast.