Everybody is embracing OKRs – shouldn’t I?

Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by Stratford Group

For the next instalment in Stratford's Ask an Expert series, Harry Page, a prominent name in the Ottawa world of business strategy who recently joined the Management Consulting team at Stratford discusses OKRs.

We wanted to know, “What’s the big deal about OKRs?”

That broad of a question certainly casts a wide net and, for someone looking to understand how best to incorporate OKRs into their business strategy, it would be difficult to fit everything into this one blog post (or net, so to speak). This blog will focus on how to decide if your organization should adopt OKRs in its strategic planning.

OK…Go

The OKR planning framework widely reported on and regaled came to prominence with the reported material impact in driving progress at Google.

For the unfamiliar, OKR refers to Objectives and Key Results, a goal-setting methodology used by teams to achieve measurable growth and improvement.

The framework is founded on three basic principles:

  • Focus - work on what is most important;
  • Alignment - work with others towards what is important; and
  • Transparency - know what is happening.

These are certainly factors that can lead to great success in any business.

Seeing the influence that the OKR planning framework had at Google, a large number of companies, and an equally large number of consultants, embraced the approach as a means to elevate performance and achieve Google-like success.

Media is replete with scores of articles about the benefit of the framework, at the same time making some wide and often incorrect statements about alternative planning frameworks.

Not so fast…

Perhaps, OKRs need to be approached with a degree of realism. They are not a magic fix-all or the invulnerable gold standard.

So, what does that mean for businesses interested in adopting an OKR framework? Harry shared his thoughts on what to consider before making the shift.

“Don’t get me wrong, there are many enormously beneficial elements of OKRs. It is important though to urge against wholesale discarding of any existing planning framework you have and expect an instant elevation of organizational performance. There are several things to consider as you seek increased performance and success in your company.”

First let’s talk about Google. As mentioned, they were one of the first to demonstrate the success of adopting this specific methodology, but Harry is quick to point out that it is important to remember that they adopted OKRs when they were about 30 employees.

OKRs became institutionalized into their culture and arguably their starting culture was what enabled OKRs to be such an instrumental part of their corporate being. So, it is not necessarily the specific methodology that is successful but the corporate culture that nurtured it.

If your company currently doesn’t have a planning process, or worse has one and either doesn’t pay it the attention it deserves or hold people accountable for the commitments they make; the adoption of OKRs will not magically fix that.

On the contrary it will illuminate and magnify any organizational dysfunction around performance. If you don’t have an organizational culture built around making and honouring commitments don’t expect the OKR planning frame to substitute for failure of leadership to create a culture of accountability.

Also, there is an aspect of “old wine in a new bottle” in the marketing of OKRs. The criticisms of existing planning frameworks – plans are only revisited annually, plans are not agile, not aligned, etc. - are quite sweeping generalizations.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Look around; there are scores of companies with breakout performance who don’t use OKRs – that should illustrate that there is more than one way to skin the cat when it comes to organizational planning and success.

Having said that, if you have a well-oiled planning process in your organization where you keep your ears and eyes on the environment; manage your plan efficiently and effectively, and continually adapt it to changing organizational needs perhaps you don’t need to jettison it to adopt the OKR framework as a whole.

Perhaps adopting several of the tools and techniques of the OKR framework will elevate the performance of your existing framework to the next level, without introducing a new and foreign approach to your team who know your current planning framework intimately.

Choose your own adventure

Finally for today’s blog, perhaps the biggest takeaway from my talk with Harry is that the OKR framework isn’t a replacement or alternative for a solid strategy.

The OKR framework can be an effective way to implement the key components of your strategy, allow course corrections when needed and help deliver a broader strategy around your business mission. But they are just one of many tools available to your Leadership team to place your organization on a path to success.

They must be implemented within a strategic context otherwise your team will struggle to understand how their quarterly priorities drive organizational success. But linking an agile and adaptive strategic planning process together with OKRs can be a game changer when coupled with a performance-driven culture.

In our next blog, Harry will be back to discuss some of the OKR implementation approaches he has seen and discuss what works well along with some things to avoid.

You May Also Be Interested In: Ask an Expert: Start with the End in Mind

About Harry:

Harry PageHarry is an accomplished senior executive with extensive experience leading organizations in the telecommunications and electronics sectors. He has international experience in both start-up and established organizations. In his career he has also acquired considerable experience in consulting with public sector and government agencies. Harry has a proven track record of delivering results.  

Throughout his career he has demonstrated a proven ability to lead strategy creation, employee development, managing change and performance improvement. He has led or participated as a core team member in many corporate merger and acquisition initiatives; ranging from early-stage companies to large multi-site, multi-national integrations.  

He has extensive experience in organizational development and implementation that has resulted in entities evolving capabilities and performance to meet changing environmental conditions. 

He has led public sector functional redesign activities as well as designed and implemented an extensive service quality management systems for two core Federal Government departments. He also has considerable experience in implementing performance metric systems in public sector organizations.