Many companies who try OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) fail, and they blame the system. But no system works if you don’t actually keep to it. Setting a goal at the beginning of a quarter and expecting it to magically be achieved by the end is naive. It’s important to have acadence of commitment and celebration.
Scrum is a technique used by engineers to commit to progress. In a daily stand-up meeting, engineers commit to what they will do tomorrow, share what they did yesterday, and ask for help with what is blocking them. This rhythm holds them accountable to each other. In larger orgs, an engineering group will hold a “scrum of scrums” to assure small teams are also holding each other accountable for meeting goals. There is no reason multi-disciplinary groups can’t do the same.
Each Monday company leaders should meet to check in on progress against OKRs, and commit to the tasks that will help the company meet its objective. There is a format I particularly like which we used at Zynga. Since then, I have used it with the companies I advise on implementing OKRs. I’ve modified and simplified it for easy adoption.
Example image: Monday commitment fourquare for a fictional tea marketplace start-up.
The four sections represent
- Upper Left: Intention for the week: what are the 3-4 most important things you must get done this week toward the Objective?
- Lower Left: Forecast for month: What should your team know is coming up that they can help with or prepare for?
- Upper Right: Status toward OKRs: If you set a confidence of 5 out of ten, has that moved up or down? Have a discussion about why.
- Lower Right: Health Metrics: Pick two things you want to protect as you strive toward greatness. What can you not afford to eff-up? Key relationships with customers? Code stability? Team well-being? Now mark when things start to go sideways, and discuss it.
This document is first and last a conversation tool. Ask:
- Do the priorities lead to meeting OKRs?
- Why is confidence dropping?
- Are we prepared for major new efforts?
- Are we burning out our people, or letting hacks become part of the code bases?
The CEO (or GM) provides a commitment square for the company, and each team should present their own. When you meet, you could discuss only the four square or you can use it to provide an overview and follow up with topics like metrics and roadmap updates. Each company has a higher or lower tolerance for status meetings.
I recommend try to keep things as simple as possible. Too many status meetings are about team members trying to justify their existence by listing every little thing they’ve done. Trust your team makes good choices in their everyday lives. Set the tone to the meeting to be about team members helping each other to meet the shared goals they all have committed to.
Have fewer priorities, shorter updates.
Make room for the conversations. If only a third of the time allotted for the Monday meeting is presentations, and the rest is discussing next steps, you are doing it right. If you end early, it’s a good sign. Just because you’ve set aside an hour doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Friday’s Are for Winners
When teams are aiming high, they fail a lot. While it’s good to aim high, missing your goals without also seeing how far you’ve come along the way is often depressing. That’s why committing to the Friday wins session is so critical.
In the Friday wins session, all teams demo whatever they can. Engineers show bits of code they’ve got working and designers show mock-ups and maps. Beyond the makers, every team should share something. Sales can talk about who they’ve closed, customer service customer’s they’ve rescued, Business Development shares deals. This have several benefits. One, you start to feel like you are part of a pretty special winning team. Two, the team starts looking forward to having something to share. They seek wins. And Three, the company starts to appreciate what each discipline is going through and understands what everyone does all day.
Providing Beer, cake, or whatever is appropriate to your team on a Friday is also important. It makes the team feel cared for. If the company is very young and can’t afford to subsidize a weekly celebration, the teams can contribute to the celebration, perhaps with a Friday Win jar. But as the team gets bigger the company should pay for the celebration. Consider this: the humans who work on the project are the biggest asset. Shouldn’t you invest in them?
OKRs are great for setting goals, but without a system to achieve them they are as likely to fail as any other process that is in fashion. Commit to your team, commit to each other, commit to your shared future. And renew those vows every week.
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