Understanding the OKR process – it’s far more than just another TLA

by Roger Longden | Nov 07, 2017

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Objectives and Key Results (OKRs for short) are changing how companies define and communicate success. Why not have a read through our free beginners guide to OKRs to get more information on how you can align and grow your company.

Sometimes it seems you can’t spend more than a few minutes in a modern workplace without being hit by a few acronyms. The three letter acronym (TLA, or jargon to some) is a trend both loved and hated in equal measure. Unsurprisingly, over-use can lead to fatigue or downright annoyance. So, at the risk of introducing yet another TLA to what I’m sure is already a burgeoning vocabulary, I ask you to stick with me as I explain why you should care about Objective & Key Results (OKRs).

On the face of it, the OKR process offers an alternative way to structure business goals. The objective is what you want to achieve, and the key result is the measure of the outcome which will let you know whether you’ve achieved it. Not that revolutionary, right?

However, I fundamentally believe that OKRs are different from other traditional performance management strategies. Better yet, they can benefit any business or organisation that is serious about growth and change, due to the ethos and structure that underpins them.

OKRs were born in the land of early-adopters and radical thinkers – Silicon Valley. This region is known for businesses who do things a little differently and challenge the norm. However, they still need to turn a profit, so it can’t all be table tennis and video games in the office. The OKR process brings strategic priorities right into the heart of a business, but in a way that’s engaging, collaborative and challenging.

Let’s think about the way in which performance has been managed in most businesses over the years. The majority will use an appraisal that’s structured around annual objectives and discussed on a 1-2-1 basis between manager and team member.

In contrast, the OKR process does it differently because:

There is a direct alignment between business, team and individual OKRs, which allows a sense of impact to flow down and real-time reporting to flow up.

Individual OKRs are discussed openly at a team level, building transparency, collaboration and accountability.

OKRs work within a cycle (typically 12 months for business, 3 months for teams and individuals) which keeps focus and allows for agility if priorities need to shift.

They (should) focus on driving growth or change – not repeating what’s been done before. That’s what a good set of health metrics can help you to track.

I believe OKRs provide a fundamental shift in the way that businesses manage and engage their people.  They systemise (because they are built on habits and routines) what is widely regarded as management best practice when it comes to motivating high performance. You only have to look at the work of people like Dan Pink to see that in the knowledge-based economy, what really motivates people is a sense of Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery (PAM for short). OKRs can help to reinforce these qualities far more than any previous approaches to performance management.

If you like what you’ve read and would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with the There Be Giants team – we’d love to talk.