OKRs system has been a popular method for aligning personal and business goals. Intel started the practice, Google popularized it, and others like Linkedin and Twitter have benefited from it.
In this episode of People & Business Podcast, we talk with Christine Nathaniel, Director of Customer Success at 7Geese. She shared her expertise on how to implement OKRs and why is it important to be clear on how personal objectives tie to company results.
References Shared in this Episode
Director of Customer Success at 7Geese.
Christine has worked with hundreds of organizations to move away from traditional reviews to continuous performance management, including the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) goal setting methodology.
She is a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) candidate and has a background in account management, training and social media marketing.
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[1:12] What is the OKR System and why it is important?
OKRs or Objective Key Results as it’s also known is a goal setting framework made popular by Intel, Google and now we are seeing it sweep across especially the tech industry. But really any organization that is forward thinking and wants to have a fresher outlook on their goal setting and how the team works together.
And the objective as it says is whatever your goal or objective is. And the key results are meant to be quite quantifiable with metrics to show did you achieve the results in a measureable way?
So often these types of OKRs, we see started at the top, so there is a handful, maybe three organizational objectives. And they can cascade down and link together with the department level and then all the way down to the individual contributor level.
[2:34] What are the most common challenges companies face when implementing this OKR system?
I’m quite familiar with this, and the number one challenge I see is what we are talking about today which is really understanding the OKRs philosophy.
So this can be more difficult for some people more than others. For example, the organizations that are perhaps are more traditional or a little bit older established, so many not so much a start-up, they can but not always struggle a little bit more especially if they’ve never done goal setting.
So initially I always thought that every business does goal setting but as I’ve worked with a lot of different companies, I realized not everyone does goal setting. So this can actually be a huge challenge just going from not doing any goal setting or maybe just at the team level or at the individual level. And it’s not systematic goal setting. And then doing something similar to OKRs.
I think that’s the number one hurdle that I’ve seen.
[4:29] Is there anything you can share with us about inspiring teams to focus on defining short-term objectives that could be achieved in a quarter?
That’s a really good point. So another fundamental thing that most customers, and I say most because there is always exceptions and there is always room to customize this type of framework to your own business needs.
Most people do execute it on a quarterly basis every three months. So I see this as a strong advantage because it forces everybody at the end or beginning of the quarter to think about what should the goals be from all levels and how they connect. And then that should be your true north, or your north star which is guiding you and there is lots of noise. And especially working at different start-up companies, I know it can be good noise like fun and chaotic and exciting. But there are so many things that you could be doing and sometimes it’s difficult to know what you should be doing. So I think the quarterly basis is really helpful.
In terms of inspiring people, I think that also relates to the challenges you asked about because sometimes it can be a little bit difficult to inspire people. So knowing the philosophy but also having strong leadership that can make clear why you are moving in this direction, what is a good OKR, and keep reiterating the benefits, can inspire people to continue to do this and to improve every quarter what their OKRs are.
[6:41] How can we measure the impact of OKRs?
I think that’s a great question. Like with any endeavor, especially when that does have some serious challenges and effort required, it’s important to think at the beginning how you measure your success.
I think what you said is really impactful that when everyone was working together and you are using this framework, there was good communication and you were more successful towards whatever those top level organizational objectives were.
I would say that would be the perfect way to measure it. But it may not be that straightforward.
The other thing is, even though a lot of companies are doing this, they might be doing it for slightly different reasons. So one company might actually approach this from more of an employee engagement and retention standpoint. Maybe they had a big problem with turnover and the reason that was given during exit interviews was people don’t know how they are aligned and how their contributions matter and how they connect.
And so maybe this was part of the solution that HR and the leadership team proposed. And in that case a hard metric that you might look at is turnover rate or a combination of that and doing some quarterly employee engagement types of surveys to give you some quantitative and qualitative data as well as maybe interviewing people with specific questions about how they are feeling and if they feel like they are being valued and those sorts of things.
For the customers that I work with, I don’t think that anyone has quite nailed this question of how to perfectly measure the impact of the OKR system because it touches on so many things. It has to do with bigger initiatives with goal setting or even the company values. Like how to exhibit the company values, how to have better communication.
So it’s also important in the learning process to realize all of the things that this could relate to and view it as a holistic solution.
[9:02] How do you think it’s easier to make traditional companies see the benefits of the OKRs system empowerment?
I would say that it can be a real struggle. Implementing something like this could be more painful for companies that are not used to empowering their employees or they think they do but in reality they like to control a lot of things such as goal setting at the top.
There is different sets of challenges altogether for getting buy-in at the individual contributor level.
And like you touched on, one of them is having people see the value or getting people feeling like they are engaged, like they are contributing.
I think this can come in different forms. In the creation of the OKRs is probably the biggest way that this can come into play. So there does need to be organization at the top. So we like to say a good approach for creating the OKRs every quarter or for the first time is to have some top down approaches. And then also have some efforts bottom up, so from those individuals giving their opinion, having their responsibility of their own goals.
That would be the ideal scenario, that they meet in the middle so that people are not feeling like they are simply told what to do which can happen in a lot more traditional organizations with very strong hierarchies, a very strong management focus or micro management focus it can feel like at times.
So this is also a struggle. This is something that a lot of my customers struggle with even the ones doing it very well or the ones that have done it for several quarters or a year, is that it always can be something that you potentially would want to focus on.
[11:19] What advice would you give to those companies that are trying to implement the OKR system?
I would say the first step as I see it is educating yourself which you are already doing if you are listening to this podcast. So continue to reading and listening to similar materials.
We obviously have quite a few on our website at 7Geese.com and there is also plenty out there. So I would say read a wide variety and try to get stories of how other people have done it when possible.
And then beyond educating yourself, try to share that education. So identify who the stakeholders would be. Usually it’s some form of HR execs but not always. And maybe start to have some exploratory meetings and sharing the education so it’s not just living with one person because the implementations are never successful when it’s just one person trying really hard to make it happen.
You’ll have to have the buy-in and the education of this philosophy from these top leaders. And then with enough buy-in and time and clarity, then you can think about actually implementing it to the rest of your organization.
- The OKR system will help companies to make everyone understand and connect with your vision and strategy.
- This framework enables your teams to build together your company’s future.
- It can be challenging but it’s totally worth it. The things that are worth pursuing are often the most difficult.
- We can see people are more engaged, aligned and achieving those business outcomes that you couldn’t have without the framework.