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3 Key Rituals in OKRs

Creating & aligning OKRs is 20-30% of the effort needed to win with OKRs. The real success lies in making the plans come alive with robust implementation. This blog features 3 key rituals in OKRs and how to master them.

Planning is good, but plans are useless.  Your goals only take shape with discipline and focused execution. Creating and aligning OKRs, to me, has always been 20-30% of the effort needed (depending on whether you’re doing it for the first time or not) to win with OKRs.

The real success lies in making the plans come alive with robust OKR implementation. This requires teams working on OKRs to be able to gauge the workforce, materials, machinery, finances & time needed in order to get the ball called “Initiatives” rolling. For the uninitiated, Initiatives are things you work on (small projects, tasks or activities) that give you the desired Key Result (KR). Every KR, in fact, must have at least one Initiative attached to it – although you end up with more than one usually.

Winning with your OKRs means mastering the rituals. Like any other framework, nothing really comes to fruition without serious discipline.

First let’s understand why rituals are important. A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence[1]. Rituals are present everywhere. From cultures to families and even in sports and businesses. Festivals around the world are a great example of rituals – its what binds a group of people united for a certain cause.

Similarly, with OKRs – without rituals, the framework simply falls flat. Because OKRs are an open framework, rituals can take shape in more than one way. I have seen companies adapt and adopt rituals to suit their own cultures and internal systems. Even the frequency of rituals may vary from one team to another. All that being said, there are 3 rituals that lie at the heart of every OKR implementation. I am going to share with you the tips you need to know to master them.

Ritual 1: OKR Planning, Validation & Alignment

Ideally done at least a week before the beginning of every quarter. This helps teams to go back and assess the resources needed for various initiatives. A few OKR related questions to coach your team through this step are as follows:

  1. How aligned are the objectives to the overall organisational Northstar?
  2. Are the Key Results truly a good measure of success for our objectives?
  3. Are the initiatives well placed to help us achieve the key results?
  4. Are we reverse engineering any OKRs? (Reverse engineering means romanticizing an existing initiative or KR to then create an Objective, instead of the other way around).
  5. Do we have any vanilla Key Results that are sitting under an Objective? These are KRs that may look good but not necessarily contribute to the Objective at hand.
  6. Are various teams well aligned to the OKRs?
  7. Are your OKRs balanced? Balance simply means ensuring non-skewed performance over time. This requires creating Objectives that are a good mix of revenue, performance (how we look to our shareholders), growth, people & culture and customers. Balance also means Key Results are not too biased towards efficiency or effectiveness.

Getting the teams together to do this exercise is crucial. Remember, OKRs are a social process. Like all rituals, this one also needs teams to come together and do this exercise. The more you involve the critical stakeholder, the more ownership and buy-in we have from the process.

Ritual 2: OKR Check-In & Cadence Review

One the one hand, an OKR Check-in simply means looking at progress of your Key Results. Is the needle really moving? This provides impetus to teams to start investigating whether the initiatives they had bet one are working. Sometimes, teams may even realize they chose the wrong metric or target.

On the other hand, an OKR Cadence Review is a social learning process I like to call Synergogy – systematic approach to learning in which the members of small teams learn from one another through structured interactions [2]. A cadence review is not ideally meant for decision making or problem solving. These are short, effective meeting where teams present what’s working, what’s not working and what need to change w.r.t their Initiatives. This causes learning across the board and in some cases even a bottom line impact by saving on wasted resources and effort (through duplication of work or repeating mistakes).

The most important lesson to learn here is that frequency matters. OKRs are meant to make your team or organisation more agile. This agility comes from the frequency of your OKR Check-ins and Cadence Reviews. The more frequently one reviews, the more changes one gets to re-calibrate and pivot.

Some important coaching questions one could ask in cadence reviews are as follows:

  1. How are the initiatives working?
  2. What’s causing an initiative to fail? Is it a lack of competence? Is it the lack of alignment? Or is there are barrier preventing us from achieving results?
  3. What support to do need for a particular initiative and from whom?
  4. Do we need to add a new initiative? Do we need to modify and existing one? Do we need to do away with an initiative as it was the wrong bet?
  5. What’s working well? How do we replicate this is other areas?
  6. How do we further stretch? What innovative ideas do we need for this?
  7. What needs to happen between now and the next cadence review?

Ritual 3: OKR Retro (All Hands)

This is what many call – closing your OKRs for the quarter. This all-hands meeting is a relatively longer one compared to an OKR Check-in or Cadence Review. I have seen several teams combine the OKR Retro with OKR Planning and Alignment for the next quarter. It segues well.

The OKRs retro is the culmination of all the learning one gathers throughout the quarter. Hence, having a system that traps these learning is key. What changes were made during the quarter and why? What are some trends we can learn from? What do we do differently next quarter? This ritual is of particular importance because it also gives valuable information to teams on some common hits and misses – not just pertaining to goals but also behaviors. The OKR Coach or team leader can gauge these trends and plan for the next quarter accordingly.

From a timing perspective it could get quite tricky to close the quarter before the actual end of the quarter. Sometimes one might not get all the numbers needed to close the OKRs due to the very nature of the KR in question. For example, if your KR has a lag metric like Market Share or Incidents/Accidents – one can conclude only when one reaches the last day.

What’s important though is that we find workarounds in such situations without compromising on the frequency of the ritual.

Summary

The OKR Framework is simple, when it comes to planning and creating OKRs. What makes OKRs seemingly complex is the part where implementation begins. I like to call Objectives the heart of OKRs as that’s where one derives motivation and aspiration from. Key Results are more like the head of OKRs, in that, they bring the numbers and metrics that determine success for the objective at hand. However, Initiatives is where the work really gets done – they are the hands of your OKRs. It is the place where the real stretch in your OKRs will come alive. It is the place where real innovation will take place. But this implementation hugely depends on the discipline and rigor with which we adhere to the rituals – without which OKRs may simply be a fast car lying in your garage with no fuel to drive it.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual

[2] Improving Your Teaching Using Synergistic Andragogy

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