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Optimizing the benefits of OKRs

I’ve implemented OKRs and have now completed my first cycle through the framework – now what?

With Q4 well under way and 2023 on the strategy planning horizon at Stratford, we thought it was an excellent time to bring Harry Page back to talk with him about his experience and recommendations for how to implement OKRs.

In our first chat with Harry, we discussed how to decide in the OKR framework was right for your organization. In the second blog post we talked with Harry about practical implementation of the OKR framework. You may remember that we mentioned that you must ensure that your OKR implementation doesn’t end up encompassing everything you do, that you don’t recreate the wheel every 13 weeks and that it’s important to be pragmatic when looking at missed KRs.

For our third ‘Ask an Expert’ with Harry, we wanted to focus on how the OKR process is a key component of organizational learning. For this interview, we asked Harry, “How can we optimize the benefits of the OKR framework?”

Are you on the right track?

Harry advocates for including reflection as a key step in your evaluation process and the best way to ensure you are optimizing the benefits of the OKR framework.

Harry says it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of planning and grading and bypassing the opportunity to dig deeper into the outcomes in favour of setting the next goal.

He says, “I see many OKR implementations that turn the 13-week cycle into a rigid routine of OKR setting, implementation, grading and setting OKRs for the next cycle without ever taking the time to take stock of what just occurred, what went well, what didn’t and what did we actually achieve.”

For the OKR, or any other planning process for that matter, to be truly transformative, reflection is essential. Unfortunately many organizations confuse OKR grading, a core part of the process, with reflection.

Grading is that process we use at the end of each OKR cycle to determine what we accomplished and what we need to do in the subsequent cycle. Typically lower scores (grading schemes can be widely found with any Google search!) cause us to revisit / reassess the definition and implementation of the OKR while higher scores indicate success – as long as the OKR was properly set. We talked about that earlier!

What is most important for leadership to understand is that OKRs, intentionally at first or not, are built for organizational learning.

Embrace learning moments

Those who implement OKRs should wisely memorize the wonderful quote from John Dewey where he says, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” That must be a core tenant of any planning process and the OKR framework provides ample opportunity for learning moments.

How can we make sure that we are taking advantage of these learning opportunities and what is the ideal starting point? Harry says, “The reflection begins with a simple question: Did I achieve my targeted business goals?”

From there you can follow the question ladder below to dig into real cause and effect relations:

  • If yes, what factors contributed to my overall success?
  • If no, what were the hurdles that made me fail to achieve my goals?
  • If I need to renew my OKRs, what goals should I change?
  • What are my key learnings from this quarter that might change my strategy for the next OKR cycle?

Reflection roadmap

Those who have successfully adopted the OKR framework and achieved the intended results often utilize the reflection format that follows here:

  • Reflect on the achieved results (in the OKR Sets)
  • Reflect on the collaboration throughout the OKR cycle and the OKR process
  • Discuss different perspectives in your team/organization and create a shared understanding
  • Identify patterns and reasons why for impediments and obstacles
  • Discuss process improvements and necessary adjustments
  • Define concrete action items going forward

Harry’s final comment on reflection is that organizations are often inclined to give the OKR reflection step short-shrift or even skip it entirely. For those individuals or organizations that don’t practice reflection, it can feel a bit awkward or seem like an additional time investment without merit.

In reality, the absence of reflection slows or even removes organizational learning.  Make the time for reflection and you will never regret that time investment.

As we neared the end of our chat, Harry remarked, “I can’t overstress the importance and need for inject reflection into the process; in fact, reflection is a core part of self-awareness and personal mastery so why shouldn’t it be an organizational process as well as an individual one?”

I think that’s an excellent point to leave you with.

About Harry:

Harry is an accomplished senior executive with extensive experience leading organizations in the telecommunications and electronics sectors.

Throughout his career he has demonstrated a proven ability to lead strategy creation, employee development, managing change and performance improvement. He has extensive experience in organizational development and implementation that has resulted in entities evolving capabilities and performance to meet changing environmental conditions.