The 3 Cs that make OKRs successful

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Tim Meinhardt is the CEO of Atruity LLC. Atruity is a Consultancy that provides management and facilitation expertise within the OKR framework.

Hi Tim, you started your Consultancy back in 2018. What was your motivation behind founding an OKR Consultancy. Why have you decided for OKRs than for another agile method?

I started Atruity wanting to be able to make a difference for SMEs. However, back then I had little experience in strategic planning and agile frameworks. Therefore, I read the book “Measure what matters”.

“I was really impressed by the book which showed me what a fabulous methodology OKRs is as it was agile in nature.”

I realized that a plan could change itself throughout any given year based upon the circumstances that are facing the business but always keeping your eye on the ultimate price that you wanted to accomplish over a given period of time. Since in a prior company I founded, we had a more traditional waterfall approach to operational planning I recognized that an agile approach is what makes you successful. It allows you to situationally change to determine what is most important for your organizational course in the next 90 days. And that is how we became involved with OKRs. We wanted to help SMEs and we wanted to have a methodology that was more agile.

What makes an OKR implementation in your opinion not only successful, but provides the results and long-term buy-in that companies strive for?

First of all you need the right people involved in order for an OKR implementation to be successful. I will use the 3 C’s to explain it in more detail.

  1. You really need somebody from the C-Suite involved. Executive commitment to a program like this can really help ensure success. The reason is that not only are you getting someone from the top of the organization stating that they are wanting to put this in. But it allows for the plan to go through its rough beginning since everyone is beginning to learn or adapt to a new management system.
  2. The second thing that makes an implementation successful is having the right champion running the program. Every successful program needs somebody that has the flexibility or agility to talk to senior level management as well as the individuals in the organization. Moreover,  you need someone that can multitask and handle something in this nature. In addition, a champion should be good in problem solving. You are going to have people that will reject and think negatively about the OKR program.
  3. The last is really understanding that it takes a community in your company because you need those people buying-in into the program and showing what a good program OKRs is. Unless you are getting people on your team that are in favour of the OKR program it is too difficult to be able to have long-term success.
“You need to have the right C-Suite and the right champion involved. Also, you need to have the community inside your company being able to adopt it.”

Since founding Atruity you have been supporting many companies with their OKR implementation. What have been the biggest failures in their OKR implementation and why? How did you overcome them? What are typical obstacles?

It is very frustrating when an organization wants to do an OKR implementation but yet they do not really know how to do this. The people might have the theoretical understanding but lack practical experience. Things then start off on the wrong foot. This is where we see most of the mistakes happening. Moreover, often organizations want to implement OKRs and yet it is really more confined to a particular area of the business and does not necessarily have the C-suite involved. That is a difficult proposition for something like this to maintain itself over the long term. This should be about developing a program where your organization can simply begin to slowly change its culture and the way that it optimizes the performance. When you do not have this you are going to run into problems. Lastly, organizations often do not have a qualified champion. People might know what OKRs are, but do not understand how to implement the program. They are confused about how to put this all together. In addition, we did a lot of research and found out that many companies failed on the OKR implementation, more than they succeeded. The reason for failure was five distinct areas.

  1. In any type of plan it was either too complicated to introduce OKRs or not a well thought-out plan
  2. The plan was essentially thought out by only one person which meant that it failed
  3. It did not get buy-in from the organization
  4. The plan was not visible to the entire organization
  5. The plan was mismanaged

Hence, to have your program succeed, you need to have the right people involved.

In contrast, what made the difference between those companies that successfully introduced the OKR framework?

“The most successful implementations we have had was when the leadership has recognized the importance of bringing in a qualified expert to introduce OKRs.”

Implementing OKRs is not something that can not be learned. However, when you have somebody that has experience with this it goes the right way. That said, when you look at the return of the investment of the cost of doing this right vs. the cost of the expense of doing this wrong, most organizations would say they rather choose the investment and make it right vs. doing it by themselves and risking everything that it could go wrong.Our experience has told us that when people recognize this need, they start the OKR program right off. Moreover, it is of high importance to start the program off slow. We do not try to put 200 people on this in the first two months. Because understanding how to use OKRs in your organization takes time. In order to do this effectively you want people to be your community.  In addition, you want people to buy-in into the program. And last, you want people to go through the initial struggle of learning how to do this properly. Because once they learn it, it becomes simple in nature. They then help you to pass it through the entire organization. Starting from the top and working all the way down to the individual contributor.

When and where is it useful to introduce an OKR pilot?

I am not a big advocate of the pilot program. There are many reasons but first and foremost is, if you have "no-sayers" involved in the program and they are looking for a reason not to implement this then there is an old adage in business and in life that says:

“You get out what you put in and in the case of OKRs you get out a lot more than what you put in. But if you do not put in and you do not commit, do not expect to get a lot out of it.”

However, if there was to be a pilot program, I would recommend introducing it once the organization has a mission and vision statement and once they have the long- term objectives written down. I would choose to do it at an executive level. Then I would start to align management to your annual OKRs as well as to what you want to accomplish during this particular quarter. In our research we found that when organizations, regardless of their size, had at least a mission statement and long term objectives written down, their ability to to succeed is exponentially better than organizations that do not. Therefore, in putting together an OKR implementation program we highly recommend to start at the top which is your mission and vision and then continue with what is it that we want to accomplish over the next 3 years and more, what is it that we want to accomplish this year and lastly, what is it that we need to accomplish this quarter. Once you know this it begins to align itself to everybody else alone.

When would you say is the right time to scale OKRs and what does the process look like?

The right time to scale OKRs is when there is enough in the community that allows for the individual contributors to be able to have the necessary confidence from management that this is a program for them as well. We like to start slowly with organizations and have the management all on Objectives and Key Results within the first three quarters or a year.If that becomes successful and people begin to build that into a cultural or managerial change with regards on how you are beginning to look at your business then we would put it into full scale and bring it down to the individual contributors. This is obviously based on the size, if it is a 1.000 or 5.000 person company that is quite different to a company with only 20 employees. With 20 people you may be able to put within a quarter or two everybody along that.Therefore, it really does depend on size. But as far as the process is concerned, we believe in facilitation with managers. One of the most unique things that we found is when we actually facilitated a session to work with managers and ask them what is most important to them we get some very solid Objectives and Key Results for that particular manager. And that process will allow a higher quality of Key Results and Objectives.

What is your number 1 tip to succeed with OKRs?

“The 3 C’s, being C-Suite, Champion and Community are my personal key factors to success.”

If you have those, there is a much greater chance of success. If you do not have one of those three C’s  you have to work very hard in order for a program to succeed to receive the results long term. Because if you make that commitment the results can be profound. Therefore, it is important to have those 3 C’s straightened up.

Thank you so much, Tim, for your time and for giving us your thoughts on OKRs. We wish you continued success and are sure you will inspire and help many companies with their OKR implementation.

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