A best practice article on how you can develop your OKR-writing skills.
We live in incredible times.
- We have smartphones that are a million time smarter than NASA’s combined computing in 1969.
- We have access to technology that allows even the smallest startups to work alongside each other across the whole globe, for free.
- Communication goes faster than ever before. 300 hours of video is uploaded to Youtube every minute and the average office working person writes about 40 business-related emails per day. That’s about 10,000 emails every year.
With all the new technology and globalised workplace, we have today, the modern workplace is however often a stressful one. When everything is easier to do, we do more, but how do you know that you are doing the right thing.
OKRs helps you focus on work that matters.
OKRs, (Objectives & Key Results), is a framework we use for setting individual goals. They are highly prioritized and measurable yet dynamic and agile to handle the modern, ever-changing, work environment. OKRs are most often set in periods of 3 months, formulated as what is to be achieved by the last day on the period.
Getting into a focused mindset
So how do you focus? What is actually prioritized? We recommend that you begin taking some time to get into a focused mindset before you start writing your OKRs. Follow these 3 steps:
Understand the Company Focus.
Start by making sure your focused brain is framed toward the right purpose. As this article describes OKRs from an organizational perspective it is critical that you ask yourself what the company’s focus is? In our tool, the answer to this question lies in the Focus Areas of the period and in the long-term Why, How and What.
You can also form your understanding of what the company focus is through looking at your boss’ OKR, or how your colleagues have written theirs.
List valuable impact that you can bring before the end of the period.
Go through the ideas that you’ve been thinking of. Think about your current responsibilities, what your strengths are and what would be motivated to achieve.
Ambition is an important part of OKRs thinking. The list you come up with should all be things that are possible to achieve within the stated period, but a bit scary-hard to achieve. If all goes to plan, you should have a 50 / 50 chance of making it. Or as Larry Page, founder of Google, puts it in the book How Google Works:
“[Teams] tend to assume that things are impossible, rather than… figuring out what’s actually possible. It’s why we’ve put so much energy into hiring independent thinkers at Google and setting big goals.”
So – think about how much time you have until the last day of the period, then set your ambition high to what is possible if everything goes perfect.
Ask the Focusing Question.
As the list is starting to grow you want to try to find out how the different things are dependent on each other, and how some of them may be solved by another. You want to find underlying root causes or values that tie the important things together.
It is now time to prioritize. By asking the Focusing Question, you will make sure that you both achieve focus and prioritize. The Focusing Question is:
What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
The outcome of this exercise should be that you have one, or maximum 2-3 of the most important things that you need to focus on.
Write the Objective
When you have done the three steps above you are ready to describe the first part of the OKR – the Objective. Take the “one thing” that you came up with (or 2-3 things if you couldn’t boil it down) and then formulate the objective based on this one thing. Write the objective so that it feels motivating. It should be what gets you up in the morning on your way to work. Remember that the objective should be easy to understand, as your colleagues will learn a lot from you if your objective is clear. Many of our users write it as a “state” which they say they will reach by the last day of the period.
Consider aligning it to a Focus Area.
Node is built upon a concept of Focus Areas, and most often there should be a certain Focus Area that your objective helps to drive contribution towards. Connect your objective to this focus area.
If you can’t find a Focus Area that you think is relevant to your Objective you can choose not to align it to a focus area as well. Perhaps your Objective in this period is about something that is outside of the general company plan, but still is something you, your manager and team agree is something to reach for? Just make sure to provide some context to your OKRs when you write them. Learn more on how to do a first check-in of your OKRs.
Write the Key Results
When you found a good Objective it’s time to define what you need to do and how you will measure progress towards your Objective.
Key Results are the measurable part of the OKR. So where the Objective shows direction and “your way of thinking” the Key Results shows the proof towards it. Your Key Results should be the main driver towards the Objective’s success so try to set a limit of maximum three Key Results per Objective.
Balance between Adaptive Performance & Tactical Performance
OKRs are not your standard S.M.A.R.T goal or balanced scorecard mindset. OKR-driven company cultures also put a lot of emphasis on the learning process of highly ambitious teams.
Researcher and co-author of the book Primed to Perform, Lindsay McGregor, talks about two types of Performance – and that organisations often tend to forget one of them.
The first type is the Tactical Performance, which would be your standard financial targets or velocity in Scrum sprints. It basically tells you how well you stick to your strategic plan. Most performance management practices in organisations today measure tactical performance.
The other type is Adaptive Performance, and this is also the one that most organisations tend to miss. If the Tactical Performance measures how well you stick with your plan the adaptive performance measures how you diverge from the plan. So basically how well you perform when things are not going according to plan (which is often the case). Organisations need both types of performances, and OKRs lets you measure both.
Let’s say that you are a customer support team manager – here’s how you would construct an OKR with both tactical and adaptive performance measures:
Objective: Customer happiness is taken to the next level
Key Result (tactical): Go from 7 to 4 minutes in average customer resolution time.
Key Result (adaptive): 20 new ways to surprise the customer in a positive way.
In the above example “customer resolution time” is probably a well established KPI for the company in general, and for the Customer Support department specifically, and so this is tactical to measure and try to improve.
But in order to be adaptive, it is also critical to find new ways to increase customer happiness. Notice that the adaptive Key Result isn’t prescriptive, but rather it sets the stage for the manager to experiment and try out new ways to improve customer happiness. The iterative approach of testing and then writing the insight you draw from it is the last, but critical piece of working with OKRs in a great way. And for this, you need cadence.
The cadence of Check In’s.
Setting goals isn’t complex, but it can be really hard.
In order for your OKRs to come alive, they must be easily accessible and visualize the progress you do as a team. It is an iterative process where the quality of the OKRs are dependent on the number of check-ins you do.
You won’t be able to produce great results in a google docs spreadsheet or excel. 20% of your success will be based on using a tool that gives you easy access, is simple to use and visualizes. We, of course, think our tool is pretty awesome for this. But the remaining 80% of your success is dependent on yourself and the leadership that is in your organisation.
Regardless of how well you write your OKR, it won’t create value for you unless you work with it, and working with something takes time, and time needs to be invested. This investment is a decision that must be made by the management in an organization.
You need to make the OKRs become a part of your everyday work, as an underlying factor driving your day-to-day business in the right direction, and creating insights and learnings with a continuous flow, across the whole organisation. If you do, then you will more clearly see the progress you are making, understand your true purpose and value and overall be in a more happy workplace.