Guest Blog: OKRs and the culture of progress

by Jenny Bowes | Feb 25, 2020

time icon 3 mins

This week our guest blog on OKR Culture comes from Mark Greenley. Mark is the Head of Business Transformation at Victoria Plum and a valued client of There Be Giants. Mark is interested in reading and writing about how we can find better, more meaningful ways of working together.

 

OKRs aren’t just about the process.

Listen to and then adapt your team or organisations culture to make the journey a success.


The feature critical to the success of OKR (Objectives and Key Results), that few people mention — in blog posts, books, podcasts or video — is that your potential for achievement with them is directly related to the health of your organisation’s culture.

This piece is written to serve as a reminder that a large part of your focus in adopting OKR should be based on your need to listen to, understand and evolve your organisation’s culture, so it provides the conditions for people to come together, collaborate and do their best work.

GETTING THE BASICS RIGHT

In early 2019 I was given the task of introducing OKR’s into our business. This was a big deal, it represented a huge opportunity to upgrade the way we work: to provide focus on the difficult, meaningful challenges we needed to solve; put customers firmly at the centre of our universe and innovate beyond our existing limitations. I was excited by the possibilities and hoped that everyone else would be too!

Like many others, during the early days I spent a lot of time wrapping my head around the subject, I read all the books on OKR and after a while really began to understand the process and principles. Richard McClean has provided a great round-up of the various resources available if you’re currently on the starting blocks.

OKR — IS HARD!

Truthfully, the basics of OKR are hard to master, and taking the conversation out to colleagues was both interesting and challenging. For many people, the rules of OKR didn’t come naturally and we went through many sessions discussing, experimenting with and eventually coming to understand the basic principles. While we’re still far from perfect in this, collectively we understand that this is a process which with practice can be understood and mastered as we make a journey of continual improvement.

THE CULTURE QUESTION

If you want to use OKR to help execute ambitious, difficult goals, you’ll need to innovate. In truth this isn’t about lightbulb moments of inspiration and definitely not about leading with answers from the top.

It’s about harnessing and nurturing the day to day micro-interactions between your people to ensure they’re as valuable and meaningful as possible.

From this you can find your way to enable a spirit of enquiry, learning and experimentation.

In the context of culture, OKR simply becomes the process by which all this positive energy is converted into forward momentum and gives it purpose.

What I’ve seen from our journey so far is that there’s enormous energy for change, in general we see the potential in OKR to help us achieve great things.

What’s needed however, is a new language that gives shape to your ambition. To understand this, it’s probably worth taking a step back to ask why OKR? Why now?

BECOMING AGILE

It’s likely that the answer stems from your need to better react to external forces; markets, technology and competition. To sense and respond to change, to be adaptable in the face of threat and opportunity, be nimble and flexible and to work at pace. In essence, to become ‘agile’.

To do this you need to develop a new consciousness in yourself that in turn positively affects your culture, one where you can adopt and actively model the modes of behaviour associated with agility:

  • Curious
  • Adaptable
  • Open
  • Trusting
  • Psychologically safe
  • Growth mindset
  • Patient
  • Humble
  • Compassionate

Further, you need to develop an approach where it’s understood that progress emerges when we mindfully blend the act of doing; processes, practices and principles with the art of being; mindset, values and behaviours.

Regardless of whether or not you ‘do’ OKR, understanding this will enable you and your organisation to meaningfully respond to change and tune in to an emergent approach to work.

This new way, leaves behind many of the familiar, potentially erosive leadership styles of previous eras while inviting another way; one where inclusivity and sharing builds on the innate wisdom of the many.

CHALLENGING QUESTIONS

We should ask ourselves;

  • What does it mean to feel ‘safe’?
  • How can I proactively share knowledge and be transparent?
  • What do trusting relationships look and feel like?

If you can answer these questions and more, you can find another gear of performance which will spur your organisation on, exponentially and with vitality — all the while improving outcomes for customers and creating opportunities for meaningful work for colleagues.

These are only some of the difficult questions that need to be asked. Curation of a culture that rewards trust and openness whilst creating a real sense of fulfilment will be an ongoing process of transformation that recognises that OKR and culture are intrinsically linked.

As the journey progresses we need to accept that to, “stretch for amazing”, to quote John Doerr, is way easier to say than do!