OKR success looks different in various stages. If implemented correctly, Objectives and Key Results (OKR) can unlock high adaptivity, radical customer focus, transparency across the organization, alignment, and many more. However, these benefits are not unlocked right away. It takes time to define processes and find the right metrics, which is why some of the benefits unfold later than others. This can easily be mistaken for OKR not working and cause frustration, even though it is basically part of the process. Expectation management is therefore crucial for Leadership and OKR coaches to make everybody involved aware of what success looks like over the first few steps of the OKR journey.
If you are not yet familiar with the OKR framework, take a look at our article "Objectives and Key Results (OKR) - A Definition"
Benefits of OKR during the first cycle
Alignment is one of the main benefits of OKR and its impact can start to unfold right from the beginning of the OKR Cycle. During the Alignment Workshops, previously siloed teams get to communicate with each other and discuss initiatives towards shared goals. This allows them to clarify responsibilities and prevent double work in areas of overlap. These workshops uncover a lot of room for improvement in communication and collaboration. Many teams ask themselves after their first time holding this cross-functional meeting: “Why haven’t we been doing this all along?”
Another benefit is that transparency and communication are noticeably improving. The organizational goals provide a clear picture and everyone has an understanding of how their work contributes to them. This has a direct impact on motivation and engagement, as team members get a sense of contributing personally to the higher purpose.
However, in terms of focus and outcome-thinking, it takes some time for teams to adjust their mindset. Teams are often too focused on what project they are doing than formulating the value and outcome this initiative has for the internal or external customer. They are nudged to limit themselves on what’s important during the cycle and question who they create value for but occasionally might fall back into previous routines. This is no need for concern, but it makes sense to evaluate the goals in terms of outcome-focus again during the Retrospective and Review session to improve goal quality over the next cycles.
Learning and improving during Phase two
The biggest impact after the first one or two cycles is the aspect of learning and improvement. Teams can make their first data-driven decisions, even though they might still struggle to decide on the right metrics. It can be also tricky to judge progress as the low amount of data makes it hard to find a baseline. A solution might be to continuously work on finding, building up and refining the right metrics and become more and more data-driven.
Moreover, the first cycle(s) have brought forth frictions with existing practices and processes. This is inevitable when implementing new processes and structures and should be expected before. As the OKR framework is highly focussed on bringing everything to the surface, teams now have the chance to resolve these frictions, which might need some time, but is necessary for smooth collaboration beyond silos.
At this stage, it is crucial to stay focused on the positive aspects and not dwell on the frictions, roadblocks and challenges. Problems should be addressed and discussed to improve on them, but in terms of motivation, bear in mind that this is part of the process and success will be determined from the learnings during this phase.
Unlock the Mastery after +3 cycles
At this phase, a certain maturity and routine in working with OKR have been established. There are still cases where friction in collaboration is detected but teams are now better able to solve them. As the data structure has been improved and teams work with established baselines, they are better equipped to measure their Key Results. Additionally, the Retros and Reviews of previous cycles established the mindset of continuous improvement and learning.
In terms of alignment, teams are now better able to align their OKRs and formulate them around problems which are solved in cross-functional teams. This customer focus and continuous value creation enables them to gain competitive advantage and adaptability to internal and external changes.
While all benefits are unfolding in this stage, this does of course not mean the end of the journey, because making OKR work is just the first step. While teams are able to align their goals, they are now able to define value streams to better serve customer requests. Moreover, with the established focus on customer value and a high degree of transparency and collaboration, organizations have laid the ground to continually develop innovative solutions and create ever more close relationships with their customers.
Expectation Management is Key
Leadership and OKR Coaches need to be aware and prepare their teams that some of the benefits of OKR can be unlocked earlier than others. Some of them, like the outcome-focused and data-driven mindset, need to evolve over time. It’s important for coaches to put the frustration along the way into perspective and clearly communicate that the tensions that occur are part of the process and will pay out in the end. After all, the whole OKR journey is a constant learning process.