Step by step working more strategically

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In order to survive in the increasingly volatile markets of the new economic and working world, organizations will have to learn to react quickly to changing requirements. Strategic thinking through the formulation of Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a proven agile management approach in dealing with these situations. But how can teams with a high amount of daily operational tasks work strategically? This question will be answered in our whitepaper "Value creation through strategic OKRs despite daily business: A new perspective" (coming soon). In this article you will get a first insight into the topic and learn how you and your team can create more strategic value step by step.

If you want to know more about the OKR framework, take a look at our article "Objectives and Key Results (OKR) - A Definition"

How can teams integrate operational day-to-day business and strategic control and illustrate it using strategic control instruments such as OKRs?

The "additional work" that emanates from strategic control instruments, such as the formulation of strategic OKRs, is perceived as an additional burden instead of a valuable tool for prioritization, coordination, orientation and communication of sense, purpose and customer benefit, especially in occupational groups with a lot of day-to-day business. However, the assumption that OKRs have to be set in addition to the actual work is a major misunderstanding. OKRs should not be "on top", but should reflect those goals that the team has already implicitly defined. They make the outcome and the value of activities planable and measurable. This new way of thinking is a basic prerequisite for working in self-organized, customer-centric teams. For this reason, program managers responsible for introducing strategic management tools such as OKRs (Program Leads) should make their employees aware that OKRs do not require additional time, but describe how to do things and change processes. In other words, good OKRs do not change the quantity, but the manner in which people work.  In order to increase the strategic focus of teams and free up resources for this, a primary analysis of the current situation is advisable. How much time do teams spend on operational issues? How much of their working time can they devote to strategic ideas? Only when such an evaluation is available an optimization can take place. The 3-phase model makes it easier for organizations to locate themselves on the scale from "exclusively day-to-day business" to "mainly strategic work" and provides them with knowledge of how to think strategically despite day-to-day business. (Design illustration)

Phase 1: Analysis of the current situation

All beginnings are difficult. Organizations are often faced with a major challenge when it comes to promoting strategic thinking within their teams. Therefore, it makes sense to first map the status quo with the help of the OKR framework. Even if there is a lot of day-to-day business to be done, OKRs and tools for mapping them (such as Workpath) function as mirrors of the organization. In the first steps, it is important to define strategic OKRs and to label the tasks that arise (strategic vs. operational). A graph provides an immediate overview of which teams are contributing to strategic goals. In the so-called weekly OKR check-ins, employees can talk about how much time is spent on "exploration".  In this phase, many teams realize that they have little or no involvement in the strategic goals of the organization, of its functional silo or of other teams, but are only busy with repetitive tasks. This awareness is the basis for thinking strategically about repetitive work: How can a team optimize processes and free up resources to spend less time on day-to-day operations?

Phase 2: Formulation of strategic OKRs

If a team finds that its focus is still very much on repetitive tasks, it can set strategic OKRs on a meta-level: Goals that focus on optimizing and automating day-to-day business. In this phase, employees consider how they can automate or simplify processes and record this in OKRs. It is also helpful to analyze to which strategic OKRs teams can make a cross-functional contribution beyond silos.  

Phase 3: Minimizing day-to-day operations and maximizing strategic work

By optimizing day-to-day business, the time a team spends on operational tasks can be reduced and the focus on strategic goals can be increased step by step. In this way, a team can continuously increase its value proposition. These small but significant advances can be optimally mapped with the Workpath Tool. Teams can see at a glance whether the proportion of people and time spent on day-to-day operations have decreased, who is contributing to strategic goals and where is still untapped potential. In the long term, teams have to formulate OKRs that aim to reduce operational tasks as well as OKRs that are strategic in relation to corporate goals. It is particularly useful to think about where a meaningful collaboration can develop for the strategic OKRs of other teams. In addition to an improved focus on joint value creation, this contributes to a valuable exchange of experience and a change of perspective. A sales team, for example, can have a strategic effect not only by improving sales processes, but also by achieving product development or customer success goals.

3 Steps for working more strategically

You would like to learn more about the topic and get to know first examples? Look forward to our whitepaper "Value creation through strategic OKRs despite daily business: A new perspective".Do you also want to talk to practitioners as well as experts and benefit from a mutual exchange of experiences? Then come to the Workpath Symposium and Quarterly on December 11th in Berlin. You can look forward to great speakers such as Timo Salzsieder, CIO of Metro AG as well as exciting workshops on topics related to change management, cross-functional teams and much more.