Implementing OKRs will impact everyone in the organisation, or at least everyone in scope from top to bottom. Successful implementing OKRs will ensure everyone is prepared and knows how to ride the wave of change that comes. The following pillars are essential, and since people are people, you will recognise some themes from preparing leadership, with the practicalities being a bit different for the wider organisation.
It’s worth noting that when teams are preparing their OKRs it’s likely that everyone in them will be involved in one way or another, so it’s critical that everyone involved is fully engaged with OKRs, understanding their significance and feeling the benefit of them.
Preparing your people
Be role models (Walk the Walk)
Ensure all the issues around senior leadership are controlled
If it feels like we are banging on about this here, you’re right. Leaders need to be seen to believe in the system and be able and willing to use it, otherwise, your people have no reason to place confidence in it. It cannot be emphasised enough how critical this is to the success when implementing OKRs.
Make sure the pilot area/team/department involves leadership and that senior leadership are prepared (in having their OKRs done, setup, etc) and are ready to support heavily as needed. Nothing succeeds like success, and the enthusiasm of the remainder of the organisation to adopt OKRs will depend on both the “public experience” of those who go first as well as the behind the scenes commentary about it that they will share around the water cooler.
Communicate the story and rationale
Have a story, one that is true. It should tell of the issues that the organisation is facing in various areas and how OKRs are going to address those issues. It needs to be easy to digest and memorable for those hearing it, but it also needs to have enough detail documented in it that it stands up to inspection. If people genuinely believe that what they are doing is going to make the organisation and their working lives better, they will support it and make it a success. If your leadership preparation is on point, the work here is almost already done, and this is just a presentation issue. Many people fall down at this hurdle for no good reason, so get the story right and get it out there for your people to buy into.
Create confidence: ensure the provision of training, support and tooling
When the time comes for the rollout, whether in phases, by department or divided up in any other way, it’s critical that the training needed by people on the ground and leaders is delivered before they are expected to do the work, but not too far ahead of time that they forget the training before applying it. This means that the training needs to be scheduled appropriately throughout the implementation. Training needs to cover both the conceptual implementation of the system and also the practical side of it, including any tooling being used to facilitate it. Training for OKRs isn’t complicated, but it can make the difference between confident, engaged people making it work, and a system in which people lack confidence and understanding.
Support and Tooling
Related to training is support. This is conceptually simple in that people just need access to reliable information to assist them in the technicalities of how to execute through the implementation (when they are going first-time through what will shortly become a regular part of their roles). For most of your people this should be your appropriately trained and supported leaders or perhaps implementation champions/ambassadors, who are in turn supported, and perhaps given oversight, by experts. The right level of expert support at this stage can mean the difference between a system that fundamentally improves your organisation’s performance and a system filled with poorly constructed interpretations of strategy and inappropriate measures of achievement, which means it just becomes a dead donkey holding you back.
Make it smooth: Process and data preparation
For OKRs to work, they require data from the value-stream/product delivery chain or equivalent in your organisation. This feeds into key results that tell you whether you’re achieving your objectives. You probably already have some data sources that are suitable for this, and your managers should be able to use these as they craft their OKRs to give you a head start, while also identifying where there are gaps in the available performance data that need to be filled.
Ensure that as many processes as possible that will need to change to cope with OKRs have been identified. Ensure that there are plans in place ready to execute these changes as part of implementing OKRs. Fast feedback on organisational performance allows rapid data-driven decision making. So if you’re processes aren’t setup to allow input as quickly as the insight is generated by the OKR system, you (and your staff) may end up frustrated. For example, if your financial management processes are unable to handle the changes in investment as frequently as OKRs might suggest is necessary, you will rapidly see a lot of frustration.
The shape of this preparation is unique to every organisation but always needs thorough analysis and planning before implementing OKRs. This is done with an awareness that some work can only be carried out iteratively once real-world changes are taking place. So long as this is known and expected, an iterative approach in certain areas is going to be fine. Judgement is needed to decide what to do upfront and what to plan to do on the fly.
Make it easy
OKRs are pretty technology agnostic. However, we strongly recommend that you adopt a tool for managing OKRs themselves, as this can greatly simplify the OKR overhead, makes it much easier to interrogate organisational performance, and will allow you to visualise the whole organisational strategy in one place. Home-made efforts and spreadsheet-based systems almost invariably end up causing much more cost and frustration than they save in pennies. For example, a good OKR platform can cost as little as £8 per seat. When comparing the total cost of ownership of a platform to an ad-hoc system, the best value option will rapidly become apparent.
1ovmany are partners with Just3things and as trained implementation partners for their OKR platform, we can support your adoption. It’s so good we use it ourselves for our organisational OKRs.
Summary of Preparing your People
You’ll notice that some of the advice given here is not about your people themselves, but about the preparations, you need to have made for your people. If you want them to drive implementing OKRs to success, doing these preparations will mean that when the time comes, your people, leaders and all, will not get bound up by the OKR process itself, but be able to quickly move to the stage where OKRs start delivering the benefits you want.
The information in this series of articles is intended to be like a buffet. To get a really successful implementation that works for your organisation, you will need to select the approaches and tools in combination that are going to give you the smoothest ride to success. If you can seriously say you’ve considered the potential issues we’ve highlighted and have a plan in place that mitigates the challenges you might face while facilitating the implementation, then we would say you are in a pretty good place in terms of planning and preparation to implement OKRs successfully.
To begin the journey and set yourself up for success you will need to do the following.
- Understand and be sure of why you want to do this.
- Be aware of and prepare yourself for the potential challenges.
- Be clear on what success looks like and how you plan to measure it, and realistic on how much work is needed to get where you want to go.
- Identify the most appropriate area of your organisation for a pilot, being aware that senior leadership preparation is not optional before the pilot and is as complete for the pilot as it would be for the whole organisation.
- Back the change to the hilt. Treat the pilot as a way of uncovering any gotchas before the full roll out rather than a test of whether it works.
- Ensure you have the necessary expertise and support available to be successful.
Here at 1ovmany we have experienced first-hand how challenging it can be to implement OKRs and it’s why we created our OKR implementation and training services. Feel free to reach out to us to discuss your implementation.
In summary, remember:
with OKRs, the employee experience should be characterised by an improved understanding of corporate direction and strategy, a greater sense of autonomy in achieving goals, and a better sense of confidence in the value offered by work done. The mindset and cultural changes that come from this drive the benefits of OKRs, and for this to happen your people need well-founded confidence in the system. This will only come if it has been thoroughly thought through and properly implemented. Good luck!