By: Bret Konsavage, National Airspace Integration Subject Matter Expert
In business, as in life, our decisions are both informed (and misinformed) by what we have the ability to perceive. When an organization, through normal pressures and evolving requirements, adopts a system which measures a given value, that organization invests resources to measure that thing. By so investing, organizational leadership communicates to everyone aware of the measurement that the thing being measured is important to the organization’s success.
Measurements, then, have their own organizational meta-data, if you will, which provides insights into what is most important to the company. When organizations attempt to facilitate significant change, these changes tend to be implemented through one goal-setting methodology or another. Change efforts through management-derived goal-setting tend to falter due to limited organizational buy-in. This is normally mitigated through a stepped change-management strategy which expands through management levels. However, these strategies do not address the underlying issue that prevents employees from buying in – why?
This lack of buy-in generally tends to be because of a disparity between any of the following: existing processes and culture, unit/team/customer requirements, personal goals, professional goals, and incentives. To address this issue in scaling personal and professional goal-setting throughout the organization, the system used to structure goal-setting activities is especially important.
Enter Objectives and Key Results (OKR) which come with four “superpowers”:
Allow individuals and organization to focus and commit to priorities
Align and connect disparate individuals for project-focused teams
Track for accountability and traceability to organizational requirements
Stretch for amazing results (aim for the stars, even in failure you will reach the moon)
In the 1970s, Andy Grove created and implemented an OKR strategy which led to his being acclaimed as “the best manager that ever lived” and led to Intel’s resounding success. John Doerr learned this system from Andy Grove as an engineer at Intel and popularized it as a venture capitalist. It has been used by Google, Netflix, the Gates Foundation, Bono, and many other successful organizations.
OKRs are a collaborative goal-setting tool used by teams and individuals to set challenging and aspirational goals that achieve measurable results. With OKRs, organizations and individual employees can track progress, create attunement (rather than alignment), encourage engagement, and enable traceability to organizational strategy where appropriately developed.
Importantly, OKRs do not require organizational buy-in and can be practiced at the team or individual level.
Objectives: “What” is to be achieved. Objectives should be significant, concrete, action-oriented, and traceable to higher-level goals and strategy where able. Where unable, they should evoke an inspirational response from the team or individual accountable. Objectives may be a month long or multiple years, depending on the effort. It is normal for objectives to span several OKR cycles.
Key Results: “How it is to be achieved.” Key results provide a benchmark by which to measure progress toward their given objective. Effective key results are specific, measurable, verifiable, and aggressive yet realistic. Individuals tend to experience greatest work satisfaction when they are challenged slightly beyond their present capacities, but if key results are too unrealistic, then they must be adjusted to prevent burnout through overuse of pacesetting, or worse, apathy and indecision in the face of a daunting task.
OKRs are Transparent
Imagine walking into your boss’s office, or seeing their office through Zoom, and being able to instantly understand what their priorities are. Imagine that with every teammate. Consider the significant increase in probability of serendipitous teamwork as a result and you will understand why it is critical that professional OKRs should be posted in your workplace for visualization.
Anyone walking into your cubicle/office/desk should be able to instantly observe your objectives (what) and the key results (how). More importantly, they will be afforded the opportunity and the agency to determine whether they can help you achieve your objectives.
Personal OKRs, too, are encouraged to be posted, but mandating such is ill-advised as it depends highly on the culture within the organization/team. Some individuals may choose to post their personal OKRs at home for greater impact.
OKRs are divorced from compensation decisions.
When Google was in its infancy, it studied tying Google’s OKRs to compensation and determined that in such a system, employees are incentivized to game the system. If the development goals are self-incentivized, no such gaming of the system is justified. Building a system which engenders cheating is a sure way to ensure that cheating will occur.
Committed versus Aspirational
Committed OKRs are those which detail existing commitments. Committed OKRs are expected to have a passing grade. Aspirational OKRs, on the other hand, represent stretch goals or loon shots. The path to reaching aspirational objectives is expected to be unpredictable, because nobody should have done them before. Like committed OKRs, aspirational OKRs may also span multiple OKR-cycles.
Grading OKRs is important. If OKR grades are low, then an OKR reassessment is recommended. If OKR grades are high, then this is empirical proof of delivery. Andy Grove graded OKRs with a binary “yes” or “no”; however, Google expanded grading to include a color-coded scale from 0.0 – 1.0 for each individual key result, which are then averaged to get the total score for the objective.
0.0 – 0.3: We failed to make real progress
0.4 – 0.6: We made progress but fell short of completion
0.7 – 1.0: We delivered
Whatever system you choose, remember that what you are measuring is important not only because of the information gained from those measurements, but also because the measurement itself communicates organizational priority. If a value is measured, it must be important; at least more important than the values not measured, anyway. The question your personnel are bound to ask is “Why?”
Here are my first attempts at OKRs for the month of March 2021:
Objective 1: I will implement a monthly OKR systems As Measured By (AMB): [1.0]
a> Completion of intent document (description of intent of the Objective) by 3/1/21 [X]
b> Documentation, Tracker, and Blackboard by end of day 3/3/21 [X]
c> Mid-Month Review of OKR Process (3/15-3/17) [X]
d> Review and AAR at end of month (3/29-3/31) [X]
Review and AAR pushed to 4/1, but prep completed
Objective 2: I will complete my monthly HATR analysis tasking AMB: [1.0]
a> HATRs Working and Flight Hours updated by 3/9 [X]
b> Data field review of work from a> on 3/10 ; Events w/ errors totaling 5 or less. 3/10 [X]
c> Analysis and Presentation Rough Draft by 3/11 [X]
d> Opens Checked/Updated 3/12 [X]
Check again 3/15 (originally had scheduled for 3/13-14 ...sat/sun...) [X]
e> Final draft to Steve, Jay 3/15 [X]
Objective 3: I will update NMAC details within HATRs Working AMB: (Weekly target = 100) [1.0]
a> Complete detail entry/update for to 100/week (20 soft/day) [X]
Week 1: 125 [X]
Week 2: 100 [X]
Week 3: 100 [X]
Week 4: 100 [X]
Week 4.5: 21 [BONUS] [X]
Objective 4: I will restart QC Debt Staff Study AMB: [.825]
a> Data pull and math redo by end of week 3 (3/19) [X]
->DET doesn't allow to separate No Data Event Class
->Separating by hazards and mishaps FY2000-FY2020
->DET-derived excels not saving due to formula character limit issue from pivot tables
->same behavior not observed in COGNOS derived reports
->Will be attempting to consolidate and copy paste into New (not 2007) excel files)
b> Outline by 3/26 [X]
c> (Self-rough) Draft by end of month (3/31) [0.3]