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OKRs in medium-sized businesses and sales – an interview with Martin Krumbein

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The management consultancy onTarget cooperates with medium-sized companies and helps its customers to close the gap between strategy and implementation in day-to-day business and thus to become economically more successful. OnTarget offers a solution consisting of a method, coaching of executives and a software. Martin Krumbein, owner and founder of onTarget, knows what is important for an efficient strategy implementation due to his many years of management and sales experience in the B2B environment.

Hello, Martin. You have already gained a lot of experience in consulting medium-sized companies. How can Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) help such companies to position themselves for a successful future?

All the organisations I work with, have a vision of a successful future and develop a strategy that helps them to achieve that vision. I then help these companies to implement the strategy, which should lead to a successful future, in their day-to-day business. This is exactly where OKRs offer valuable assistance. Even in medium-sized companies it is often the case that traditional goal systems for strategy implementation reach their limits. Silo thinking in divisions and departments, less flexible and costly annual goal agreement processes, a lack of transparency regarding goals and the current degree of achievement as well as a lack of common orientation towards a common, overarching goal are symptoms that I see again and again in projects and that can be treated very effectively with OKR.

I also observe that OKRs are particularly interesting for companies in an ongoing succession process. The succeeding generation of entrepreneurs is very open to new management approaches and uses instruments such as OKR to detach itself from the management heritage of its predecessors and initiate a change in management culture.

In your opinion, what is different in the introduction and implementation of OKRs in medium-sized companies than in start-ups or large corporations?

Since the majority of my clients are family businesses, I work directly with the owners on most projects. These are often very experienced entrepreneurs, some of them run the company in the 3rd or 4th generation. The companies are characterized by an extraordinary long-term and sustainable orientation, which is also reflected in the OKR projects. The quality of the execution is often more important than the project realisation time, so that we have enough space for a good inventory and planning. In addition, the pressure to succeed in the first OKR cycles is lower due to the long-term nature, so we have the freedom to learn and make necessary adjustments in the OKR systems.

However, this long-term orientation in thinking and acting is then again and again paired with a healthy hands-on mentality. Endless debates in which all eventualities are examined and evaluated are very seldom encountered in medium-sized companies. If the entrepreneurs are convinced that an initiative like the introduction of OKR will continue to support the future sustainability of their company, it often means “doing”. I personally think that this attitude fits very well with the basic ideas of OKRs.

What are the biggest challenges in introducing modern goal and performance management tools such as OKRs for companies with more traditional structures?

When I present and sketch OKR for the first time, the subject of transparency causes skeptical frown. The fact that goals are made visible to everyone throughout the entire organisation – from the highest corporate goals to team goals or even individual goals in some cases – challenges the imagination of many. What does that mean for us? How does the works council react? How is this compatible with data protection? These are just a few of the direct questions I am confronted with.
The concept of stretch goals – i.e. the setting of extremely ambitious goals for which a goal achievement of 70% is already really good – also frequently contradicts the established corporate culture. A goal that you set yourself should also be achieved at least 100%. 98% achievement of objectives is just a little off but off.

The impact on existing performance management systems is correspondingly large. The rethinking away from pure goal achievement towards development and creative progress, challenges traditional leadership systems and the underlying leadership culture.

And (how) can these challenges be solved?

The management team plays an important role here, in the sense of “walk-the-talk”. When management begins to make goals transparent, initial doubts disappear relatively quickly because teams and managers realize that transparency to goals offers enormous advantages. The whole thing is supported if OKR is not introduced at the employee level at the outset and accordingly no direct conclusions can be drawn about goals, goal achievement and remuneration.

I also make sure that the OKR systems are adapted to the respective circumstances. If, for example, the topic of “goal achievement” is strongly anchored in corporate culture and is decisive for the self-confidence of teams and managers, then it makes no sense to start by implementing the concept of stretch goals. The organisations should get used to OKR and its effect and then develop the system further step by step.

In your opinion, how do corporate strategy and OKRs relate to each other? How can OKRs help to implement strategies successfully?

For me, a good strategy is a basic prerequisite for the introduction of OKR. The strategy gives the teams the necessary orientation for the development of OKRs and ensures that the implementation energy is directed in the right direction. If this is not the case, OKRs can lead to dangerous actionism and constant, short-term changes of direction. In this respect, a good strategy without consistent implementation, e.g. through OKRs, is just as ineffective as a well-functioning OKR process without overarching orientation.

OKRs help the teams and employees to translate the strategic cornerstones into concrete goals – which should be worked on and achieved in addition to day-to-day business. OKRs offer a suitable system to implement these goals with a distinct focus.

Which (success) story makes you particularly happy when you think about all the companies you have already accompanied during the OKR introduction or implementation?

There is a common thread running through all projects: the moment when the many committed teams and employees become aware that they are making a significant contribution to the success of the company. This is the moment when the strenuous workshops and coaching really pay off.

I am currently working on an OKR project in the context of a turnaround. OKRs should release positive implementation energy again. If the team continues as before, OKRs will have made a significant contribution to securing business and set the course for a successfully revised business model. Since I have mainly accompanied growth strategies with OKR so far, this successful project completion would make me particularly happy.

What super power do OKRs have?

My absolute favorite is focus. In the rarest of cases, the companies with whom I work lack good ideas – on the contrary: I experience a clear surplus of good ideas compared to the available resources of time, money and energy. To focus with OKR on a few, but very promising and important things, I personally consider to be the ultimate superpower within OKR.

About onTarget 

onTarget puts the strategy, vision and values of companies into daily management and sales practice. Consistent, measurable and sustainable. One of the main focuses is the operationalization of sales strategies – including the development of sales structures, the optimization of processes and the training of sales techniques.

About Martin Krumbein 

Martin Krumbein is an expert in goal navigation and management by objectives as well as a certified OKR master (Objectives and Key Results). As a management consultant and founder of onTarget, Martin already has great working experience in strategy implementation and organizational development.

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