I recall a negotiation with a potential client about a strategic session. The stylish lady across the table asked me, "Do you guarantee results? Last year, we hired a coach, set goals, but achieved nothing." Her voice echoed resentment, mistrust, and a hint of complaint about a service yet to be delivered.
"Nothing at all?" I asked, curious about the context. "May I know what goals were set that were utterly unachievable?"
There was a pause. She exchanged glances with her colleague, who looked away. "Well, I need to find them. I can't do it so quickly." Embarrassment and irritation were apparent in her voice.
Her answer was predictable. The goals remained on flip chart sheets, safely forgotten. And this case isn't unique. Perhaps it's a remnant of our childhood when we believed our wishes would come true just by blowing out birthday candles or placing notes under the Christmas tree.
In adulthood, and particularly in business, it doesn't work that way. We need to turn our wishes into action plans. Even the best-worded OKRs, when placed into the most impressive OKR software and assumed to be an 'OKR application,' won't magically yield results. You need consistent, regular effort to make progress.
Often, when the task of setting OKRs is completed, employees sigh in relief and satisfaction, as if having passed a term paper. They then revert to their usual daily activities, treating the OKRs as a box checked off a list. The next time OKRs are due, it's good if someone remembers to organize the process and conduct a retrospective of the past period.
If you overhear conversations questioning the purpose of OKRs or whether they've become a duplication of work, it's a warning signal. Something has indeed gone wrong, and you've likely made the second fatal mistake that thwarts most implementation attempts.
How can you rectify this error? Even if it's already been made?
First, revisit the first mistake, as these two often go hand in hand. Do you have an OKR coach or someone who has assumed this role, regardless of their title? This person or team is responsible for rectifying the second mistake and setting up the OKR execution process. This involves establishing a clear rhythm of progress meetings.
Consistently measuring progress on OKRs, ideally on a weekly basis, and having brief discussions about synchronization of efforts and roadblocks, are vital parts of the OKR system. These progress meetings should be brief and focused to avoid employee irritation and the feeling of 'all talk, no work.' They are check-ins, akin to checking in for a flight or hotel. They identify if you've passed the gate of the week or are stuck and need help moving forward.
In addition to progress meetings, it's beneficial to celebrate successes. This can be a weekly or less frequent event, offering teams who have set ambitious goals and made significant progress the opportunity to share their successes and gain motivation.
Finally, conducting a retrospective before the planning session allows you to look back at the past period, analyze the dynamics of achieving OKRs, identify good practices, mistakes made, and problems encountered, all to prevent them from recurring in the next stage.