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Organizations far and wide use OKRs, Objectives and Key Results, to unify everyone around the goals they set.
The successful ones know that tracking OKRs is crucial to their success.
Establishing OKRs tells your teams the why (objectives) and the what (key results and targets) of your goals.
But what about the how?
Not the how as in telling them how to do their jobs, but the how as in helping them figure out what activities bring them closer to their targets.
Without tracking, there’s no way of knowing.
So, let’s look at how you can effectively track your OKRs and evaluate your progress.
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results.
When you use the OKR framework (or method) you achieve greater organizational clarity because you help everyone to align themselves with the business objectives.
The basis of the OKRs framework, what everyone tells you about them, is identifying objectives, determining key results, and setting ambitious targets (stretch goals).
But the secret to OKR success isn’t in what key results and targets you set.
When you set out on a journey, you wouldn’t just point your car toward your destination, hit the gas and hope for the best, turning right and left as the mood takes you.
You’d decide a route.
And you’d check where you are before turning to start another leg of that route.
Navigating on a road system is challenging enough for many.
Take it to the open sea, and determining where you are would become even more important as wind, tides, and currents inevitably will take you off course. The longer the journey, the more important it becomes to check where you are along the way.
Being successful with OKRs is very similar to sailing the seven seas.
Anyone can set their destination — their OKRs, and set sail towards them.
But getting there necessitates monitoring where you are and adjusting course — the activities you’re undertaking, accordingly.
That’s why the real secret to OKR success lies in tracking your key results:
Now, if you’re thinking “that sounds awfully much like a PDCA cycle,” you’d be absolutely right.
PDCA cycles are the feedback loop you need to make OKRs work for you (instead of you working for them).
And the pros even take it one step further.
To get even more out of OKRs, you want to create organizational transparency: allowing everyone at every level to see how everyone is contributing to their and the organization’s objectives.
Transparency can be scary.
But it’s all for your own good. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)
It helps everyone to identify shared problems and creates opportunities for collaboration in addressing them. Which is far more effective and efficient than two groups trying to solve these shared problems on their own.
Not to mention more inspiring.
And that’s why you want transparency around results.
Okay, so OKRs and tracking the key results can make you more successful as an organization, but how do they accomplish that?
What are the detailed benefits, the ingredients that create this secret sauce?
Transparent OKR tracking helps your people see how they, and others, are contributing to the wider organizational objectives.
It makes it easier for them to ignore distractions and stay “on task.”
It also helps them avoid chasing local optimums.
Transparent objectives and key results make it a breeze to see which ones are common to multiple departments and teams.
It then becomes a no-brainer to avoid duplicating the effort in measuring them.
Objectives tend to be vague and abstract, whether you use OKRs or not.
As such, they’re open to multiple interpretations of what they mean, how to calculate them, and what to do to reach them.
With key results directly linked to objectives, you get organization wide clarity on the indicators you’re using to measure your success.
It promotes transparency and accountability and helps you make informed decisions.
With all this clarity and transparency, tongues will start wagging.
As long as you also have and encourage a positive, non-toxic culture, they’ll wag about opportunities to work together towards common goals (key results’ targets).
That’ll create an addictive momentum you wouldn’t have had without close communication about the shared interest of objectives and key results.
OKR reporting — continually measuring and reporting the value of key results — tells everyone how they, and everyone else in your organization, are progressing towards their targets.
It allows you to correlate activities with results.
And that allows you to figure out what works and what doesn’t, to dig into the root causes, and adjust before underlying problems become bigger issues down the road.
Remember PDCA cycles to keep you moving towards your destination?
Here’s how to set up that PDCA feedback loop for staying on course to your objectives.
When you know what indicators (key results) can tell you how you’re doing for an objective, you want to figure out where to get the data from to track your progress.
Prefer to have a single source. Definitely for a single key result, but also for a group of related key results as in the example.
With OKRs you’re setting ambitious, even unachievable targets.
That can get demotivating very quickly.
So, set up waypoints — milestones along the way.
The simplest of them would be reaching 10%, 20%, 30%, etc. of a key result’s target.
Set up something to visualize the values from your data source in an easy to interpret way.
For example, a business analytics dashboard showing values for reference and graphs to make it easy to see trends. And have them show the targets as well.
Little motivates like seeing a value inch closer and closer to its target.
Make these dashboards ubiquitously visible in all corners of your organization. For example, install monitors cycling through these dashboards in places where people come in and gather.
It’ll help to keep your OKRs front and center for everyone.
For bonus points: have them show celebratory animations when a value passes a waypoint — and make those celebrations more elaborate the farther along you are.
Most organizations adopt a quarterly cycle to set OKRs.
To evaluate how you’re doing and adjust, you want tighter cycles.
Not so tight that changes in your activities don’t get a chance to exert influence, but also not so loose that you’re continually “behind” on what’s happening.
For example, monthly cycles can work at the higher organizational levels and two weekly cycles lower down the hierarchy.
As with sailing, executing any plan hardly ever goes as planned.
For example, the activities you thought would get you closer to your goals, turn out to be less effective than expected, or to have side effects you didn’t count on.
Or one of your competitors made a move that has you scrambling to catch up.
Or, the world changes overnight like it happened when COVID-19 hit.
The trick is to not only check your results against their targets, but also to collaborate closely with your team to evaluate what’s been working better and worse than foreseen.
And, of course, to do so especially when your results are significantly off track.
A good way is to conduct retrospectives as they’re used in agile.
For bonus points: not only look at what causes you to go slower than you’d like, but also to dig into what causes you to go faster. Maybe you missed something and there’s an opportunity to create even more momentum.
As the outcome of evaluating and analyzing your results, you want a comprehensive list of what you could do to turn things around or to take even more advantage of what’s going well.
Get everyone on your team to come up with possible actions.
But don’t spread yourself thin by changing too many things at once.
And don’t cause yourself headaches by addressing one result with multiple actions. Because that’ll only make it more difficult to figure out which of them caused the effects you see in the next round.
So double down on what works, and pick only a few things to turn around what isn’t.
Every time you finish one cycle, another one starts.
The only difference sometimes is the synchronicity with setting OKRs quarterly.
At those points, you’re not only assessing progress and adjusting activities towards objectives and their key results’ targets.
You’re also reconsidering your objectives and key results.
For example, an objective may no longer be relevant due to changes in your environment: competitors, the economy at large, etc.
Or you may find that a key result doesn’t correlate that well to its objective and drop it in favor of another.
And, of course, in the overall quarterly OKR cycle, you’d be retargeting all your key results.
It can be.
And if you’d have to track your OKRs by hand, it absolutely is.
Just imagine having teams collect data by hand, track it in some spreadsheet, have higher organizational levels face the hell of aggregating it, and repeating that all the way to the organizational level.
The idea alone is enough to make me break out in hives.
Tools for business analytics make it easier.
They use data already collected in the various systems you use. But even with them, you still face integration challenges in aggregating disparate data. Not to mention the challenges in smoothing out the differences between all those systems in what a piece of data means or how it is calculated.
But you don’t have to take it lying down.
You want OKRs to work for you with as little effort on your part as possible.
So you need a tool.
One that closes the loop for you by gathering your data and visualizing your progress.
And, obviously, at NimbleWork we think Nimble OKRs is the best tool for the job.
It’s powerful. Especially in conjunction with Nimble — our adaptive work and project management solution that adapts to your way of working and helps you humanize your workplace to boot.
Together, they close the loop for you by feeding your work and project progress straight into your OKRs, as well as keeping your OKRs just a click away as you’re executing your plans.
And if you’re using Slack, things get even better with Slack OKRs – our Slack app that puts your OKRs front and center right where people communicate and collaborate all day.
You wouldn’t set sail for your dream destination and risk not getting there for lack of a navigation system, would you?
So, don’t just go through all the effort of setting OKRs without making them work for you.
Get the feedback you need to stay on course.
Close the loop by tracking your OKRs.
And do take Nimble OKRs and for a spin to see how easy that can be.