I often remember from my days of leading divisions in large business, being asked, “what difference do I really make?”

At first, it was asked with a sense of despair and disillusionment as the business hadn’t been great at helping those working hard delivering the service what an impact they were having for the clients.  I learned to get good at helping people to feel like their contributions mattered, were valued and quickly realised that this was the work that never ended.

Now if you are in a smaller business, then the distance between effort and outcome might be a lot shorter and a lot clearer, but you still need to make sure that your people understand the link so they know what matters most and where to focus their attention.

This is where OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) can help.

One of the OKR fundamental principles is alignment.  All individual OKRs (and departmental ones if you have them) should support a business level OKR (or goal, vital few, whatever works for you) which usually has a longer span of 12 months.  This “Parent” and “Child” relationship means that when progress is made at an individual level, it should roll up and reflect progress towards the business level.  This has a number of benefits.

First, it helps those on the front line to see how their contributions are moving the business towards its goals.  Good managers and leaders will use this to boost engagement, motivation and morale.

Second, it gives directors, shareholders and any other key stakeholders a real-time view of the non-financial business performance.  This is transformational for many businesses as these are the activities which have often proved elusive to track and report.  Being able to see the impact of the latest development sprint on the overall product launch OKR will be invaluable to those needing to demonstrate progress to an investor.

The need to roll-up results is a major reason why a business chooses to use a system to manage its OKR’s as you’d need a PhD in macros to make it work in Excel!  Some systems do it better than others, but you can read about that on my blog that looks at three of the options out there.

Fundamentally, rolling up is about capturing data about progress and leveraging that to improve communication, motivation and engagement.  It’s amazing the value you can get from data sometimes.