Giant Talk LIVE: Using OKRs as a network not a hierarchy

by Lawrence Walsh | Aug 17, 2020

time icon 3 mins

Giant Talk is our regular OKR podcast in which we dive into the OKR methodology and talk key OKR best practice. Each month we bring you a live episode with our friends from Koan. On our latest live episode, we were joined by our regular Giant Talk host Lawrence. But this time, it was him in the hot seat alongside Koan’s Co-Founder Matt Tucker. Host Jenny, put forward some interesting questions, centred around the value in OKRs as a network as an alternative to traditional hierarchical structures. If you missed the episode here’s a recap of what was covered.

A traditional OKR set up tends to work like a tree structure. Starting from the top, each level has their objectives and key results. The lower level tends to take the above’s key results and turn them into their objective. Mapping against an organisational chart is a sure-fire way of ending up with this kind of set up.

Working with this kind of structure can lead companies into the trap of making overly generic OKRs at the top of the ladder, as a one size fits all approach, with little meaning or strategical impact. Hundreds (sometimes thousands) of OKRs then follow, with little relevance to the company.

Following this tree structure, OKRs often end up not being owned by the most strategically relevant person, to stick to the hierarchy. A few layers down, people tend to lose focus of the purpose and meaning, and often lose autonomy as you work further down, where the most impact might happen.

A network is a web of OKRs building out from the core principle strategy for the business, connecting at different points and going in different directions. Every organisation is different, and the network should reflect that. In many cases, efforts are cross functional and often a collaboration between departments. OKRs should reflect this, by focusing on the correct person owning the OKR as a pose to the top person.

Each OKR may have a different number of OKRs following it, because it should stop where the relevance ends. One concept to let go of is that everyone in the organisation needs to be tied to a goal somewhere. Roles may have changing focuses at different times. It is important to keep the spotlight on the main objectives to achieve breakthroughs with OKRs. Creating meaningless OKRs for the sake of assigning them to people undermines this.

A network structure is worth its while, but it can be complicated to manage. Manually tracking OKRs can be especially hard when they are cross functional. It poses problems when sharing between teams and can become hard to keep track of. This is where tools become essential for transparency and visibility of changing dependencies. Mind mapping software is a great way of visually creating an OKR structure from the centre outwards. Teams can propose goals bottom up, provide feedback, and check in on objectives.

OKRs are not a way of micromanaging your team. It is about putting trust into the people you’ve hired and giving them the tools to create their best work. A network of OKRs shine a light on the important goals and give people the opportunity to make an impact.

Hierarchical structures make it easy to lose sight of why you are trying to achieve something. The complexity, lack in autonomy and strategical impact can damage culture. The planning process can become too complicated, outweighing its value.

Organisations will go through different journeys to set up an OKR network. Whether its allowing people to step up and take on higher objectives, or making the objectives more cross functional, take the first steps and learn along the way. Always look for an opportunity to simplify the process.

Catch up on the full discussion from Giant Talk Live here. And, to ensure you never miss a future episode follow Giant Talk.

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