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Using OKR Methods To Lift Business Performance

As 2022 draws to a close, most organizations are deeply involved in planning, budgeting and forecasting for the coming year. To complete this rigorous process, leaders often invest significant time, attention and energy for weeks or even months. Yet research says more than 90% of those strategies will never be executed. How can you develop an operational plan you’ll actually use?

Today’s uncertain economic environment is prompting leaders to seek out more flexible, reliable planning tools. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. For decades, some organizations have relied on highly effective, affordable practices and tools based on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Understanding OKRs

The OKR framework is favored by fast-growing tech giants like Google, LinkedIn, and Spotify, as well as start-ups that hope to follow in their footsteps.

OKRs are a way of setting strategic goals, first at the company level. Then departments, teams and individuals align their goals with the organization in a systematic way. But this framework is much more than a simple goal format. It comes with multiple step-by-step execution best practices.

For example, consider the “check-in” step, which is usually conducted on a weekly basis. This lightweight update process keeps everyone on your team focused, informed and on-track throughout an OKR cycle. Regular check-ins also help leaders avoid becoming consumed in reactive firefighting, which is often why strategies never see daylight.

Specialized software can help make steps like check-ins faster and easier to manage. For example, with OKR tools like ZOKRI, the check-in process takes only minutes to complete.

Unlocking The Full Benefits of OKR

OKR Snakes and Ladders - Best Practices and Mistakes to AvoidThe OKR process seems simple enough. However, making the most of OKRs requires nuance. Understanding how to navigate these nuances can help you quickly move from an OKR novice to a highly skilled OKR-driven organization.

Some important nuances are outlined below and are illustrated in this OKR “Snakes and Ladders” infographic:

7 OKR Ladders (Top Tips)

To help you succeed at OKRs, here are 7 top tips from organizations that have relied on them for years to drive performance and growth:

  • Use OKR as a focal point for debating issues and opportunities that, if solved, can move the needle. You could also consider them a blueprint for team “therapy” that creates engagement and excitement.
  • Identify meaningful, measurable outcomes (“key results”) to be sure you define success effectively. Discourage vanity metrics and “to-do list” outcomes.
  • Use KPIs to measure business-as-usual performance. Reserve OKRs for more valuable performance metrics, focused on strategic initiatives.
  • Establish aspirational goals selectively to improve focus and unlock innovative ways of thinking. OKRs let you set stretch goals without creating unnecessary stress among stakeholders.
  • Keep in mind that OKRs do not have to follow your organization chart. For example, they can be used effectively with cross-functional team initiatives.
  • Use operational processes built into OKRs to ensure that information is flowing as needed and your organization develops an executional rhythm.
  • Leverage retrospectives at the end of OKR cycles by creating positive shared learning experiences that inform future plans.

7 OKR Snakes (Pitfalls)

Perhaps the greatest strength of the OKR framework is its popularity. The biggest obstacles and mistakes have already been solved many times before, so common issues like these are easy to spot and avoid:

  • Sometimes, executive teams are not prepared to lead by example. Instead, they expect others to set and update goals, but they don’t manage their own. You don’t want to be one of these leaders.
  • Goals assigned to you aren’t as effective as goals you help create. To unlock stronger performance gains, get more people involved in the process. Discover together what needs improvement and support others in achieving their goals.
  • Similarly, avoid developing team OKRs in a silo. Team OKRs are much more powerful when they’re the product of cross-team discussions.
  • Too many team or individual OKRs dilute your focus. Instead, set fewer goals, each with high potential business impact.
  • Don’t treat OKR steps as optional actions. Without mandatory check-ins, you lose a single point-of-truth and people stop taking reports and updates seriously.
  • When the risks and consequences of not achieving OKRs are perceived as high you might be tempted to low-ball, but that can undermine the process. Grading OKRs and retrospectives helps you avoid this issue.
  • Setting and forgetting OKRs opens the door for business-as-usual firefighting to take over your agenda. Clearly, this jeopardizes overall performance outcomes. It’s important to commit to the OKR cycle and not skip updates or OKR meetings.

Summary

OKR is a proven goal setting framework. It can help you structure, share and execute organizational strategy, while making it easy for individuals and teams to support those goals.

Businesses that rely on OKRs typically are high-performers with traditional organization charts and cross-functional teams. But as everyone works toward aligned goals, people are more likely to identify and solve problems. And they learn from each other faster than those without OKRs.

Adopting OKRs is more than adopting a new goal format. It means you’re embracing a new way of talking about challenges and opportunities, and tracking progress towards goals and learning from experience. The know-how and tools to implement OKRs are within reach – even for organizations with a limited budget and management resources.

Tips To Bring Wisdom To Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement is an individual’s investment of wisdom, skills, energies, creativity and time in the work assigned.

Each of my next five posts will explore one of those components: wisdom, skills, energies, creativity, and time. For easy study, each article will follow a pattern: What It Means (Definition), What It Brings (Value), and How To Bring It On (Actions).

What Wisdom Means (Definition)

Wisdom is the ability to think and act utilizing these factors: knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight. Wisdom impacts decisions, plans and actions for our business. That’s true for new products, site opening, market expansion, and personnel decisions. The more wisdom factors applied, the better the decision-making process, the better the decision.

What Wisdom Brings (Value)

These values results from wisdom employees apply to their work. The broader, deeper, more embedded their wisdom, the greater each value.

Competitive Advantage. The company performing from greater wisdom normally trumps its competitors. Knowledge may relate to product engineering, market movement, sales efficiency, operations expenses, human asset management. Experience that comes from past successes or failures is a learning source. Common sense and insight add the special touch to maximize the other wisdom factors. The head start and strong finish from talented employees’ wisdom is a decided competitive advantage.

Added Value. Positive attention to wisdom contributes to success and encourages employees  to “turn up their wisdom.” That results in added value. Work is done more quickly and with more quality. Product is designed or refined with an enthusiastic, clear eye to the market. Expenses are managed thanks to more ready attention to budgets. When employees are invited to bring their wisdom to the table, they do. When their wisdom generates a recognized return, they bring it again and again. Each return adds value.

Process/Performance Improvement. Applied wisdom drives the desire to make work processes better: more efficient, more effective, more enjoyable, more error-free. Opportunities to use wisdom motivate improvement of one’s performance, team’s performance, and company’s performance. Employee engagement generates improved performance. Certainly, the effort to improve performance or process is engagement by the employee.

How To Bring Wisdom On (Actions)

Each suggestion is a category of actions you may discover, design, create for application in your company, with your employees. These are to key your employees in to their wisdom, motivate their nurturing that wisdom and generate their ownership of their wisdom-actions.

Information. Few things are more frustrating than not having base information to tackle a project. Few things are more wasted than information lying around without application. Information and action reinforce each other. When the information is available, invite employees to verbalize how it might be used. Then trigger their wisdom-machine by inviting “how else?” When there’s a task to be done but information is missing, invite employees to specify what information they need. Then trigger their wisdom-machine by asking, “How might we gather that info?”

Challenge. Humans enjoy challenges. Humans enjoy rising to challenges. A challenge must be beatable. A challenge must not be so mundane it seems a waste of time. Engage your employees in challenges that will accomplish something for the good of the company AND call upon their wisdom resources (knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, intuition) AND stretch their “think-ability”. An excellent challenge is to have employees apply stories (true, of course) to successful challenge experiences. Stories about challenge engage employees in applying their wisdom.

Stimulate. Wisdom is something we possess, we rely on, and makes us feel good when we see its results. But it doesn’t get a lot of up-front attention (unless this posting changes that). Consider installing and encouraging what I’ve called “thought-changers” among your employees. Give them specific encouragements to think in a different way, a different direction, with different logical tools. This article offers five thought-changing activities: 5 Thought Changers to Grow Employee Engagement.

Wisdom is a powerful fuel for employee engagement and talent engagement. It is but 1 of 5 fuels. Next we’ll look at Skills.

About the Author: Tim Wright is professional speaker/coach/facilitator with expertise in employee engagement and culture improvement.

photo credit: giopuo via photopin cc

Photo: Nick van den Berg

5 Links between Talent Management and Employee Engagement

Talent management and employee engagement have become key buzz phrases in business. Each has taken human asset management to a more specific, more integrated level.

Talent management’s definitions are reasonably consistent. Here are valid examples:

Talent management offers value at the revenue end. Customer satisfaction, product development, and marketing innovation all benefit by being accomplished by talented performers. Talent management also contributes to expense reduction. Quality improvement, process redesign and employee retention are results generated when talent works the business.

Among the many, varied definitions of employee engagement, I select this one:

Simply stated: talent management acquires and supports higher levels of skills and knowledge; employee engagement increases the value application of the skills and knowledge. Talent generates revenue and reduces expenses; engagement lets them do that more, do that better.

Businesses now aim to give more attention and action to both talent management and employee engagement. That attention needs to be well-directed; those actions need to be well-developed. Let’s look at five links between talent management and employee engagement. These links promise to increase a company’s success in improving both attention and action.

Better Onboarding Link

A powerful onboarding program introduces talented candidates to the business’ engagement culture immediately. The individual can actually engage in onboarding activities — rather than sitting at a desk and thumbing through a binder. A strong program demonstrates employee engagement as the business lifestyle. Engagement is proven to attract active talent. Opportunities to engage from the start heighten talent’s appreciation…and engagement. What company doesn’t truly want an onboarding process that lets new talent “hit the ground running” and then run even faster?

Competitive Advantage Link

Competition for talent is fierce because talent is a leading factor in a company’s competitive advantage. Recruiting, developing and retaining talent are the tools that build competitive advantage. Talent management starts with recruiting. Stronger recruiting efforts contribute to greater talent acquisition. Employee engagement adds to developing and retaining talent. It demonstrates the company’s appreciation of their value to the company — as it builds their value to the company. What company does not look for every possible way to gain advantage over their competition?

Performance Improvement Link

Talent joins a company appreciating the company and its product. As talent engages more fully in company operations, assignments, projects, that appreciation grows. The greater the appreciation, the greater one’s commitment to performing with quality. An employee — especially a “talent employee” — who has the opportunity to perform in ways which she/he sees as valuable consistently seeks to improve that performance. What company does not want to start with talented employees and then enjoy seeing them improve on their talent?

Customer Satisfaction Link

Customers naturally prefer to experience quality product and quality service. Research says it is the people with whom customers interact that determine the customer’s opinion of that quality. Talent management looks for quality candidates. Employee engagement turns up that quality.  Successful attraction and recruitment combine for the first step. Once talent is hired, employee engagement strategies increase communication and commitment. These are critical characteristics that satisfy customers. What company doesn’t want satisfied customers? What company doesn’t rely on its employees to generate such satisfaction?

Reduced Turnover, Increased Retention Link

If intense effort is made to hire talent, equally intense effort should be expended to retain talent. Employee engagement is a specific element of talent management insofar as it boosts a company’s ability to hold on to talented employees. People stay with companies they value. The more an employee is allowed and encouraged to engage in job, team, and company efforts, the more she sees the value. People stay with managers they trust. The more managers and employees engage in continuous communication about expectation, the more trust develops in their relationship. People stay with companies that offer opportunities for personal, even professional growth. The more your company provides such opportunities — training, mentoring/coaching, community involvement — the more growth the employee witnesses. What company doesn’t want quality talent to stick around?

(About the Author: As an Employee Engagement and Performance Improvement expert, Tim Wright has worked with businesses and national associations of all sizes. His company, Wright Results, offers proven strategies and techniques to help businesses increase employee engagement, improve personnel performance and build a strong business culture by focusing on performance management from the C.O.R.E. For more information, visit www.wrightresults.com or connect with Tim here: tim@wrightresults.com)