Hot off the press: "The State of OKRs - Global Enterprise Report"

5 exercises to build business strength in uncertain times

We now have more disposable time than ever to refocus on activities that may have otherwise fallen by the wayside, exercise being one of them. Dumbbells and yoga mats are becoming increasingly scarce resources, much like toilet paper at the onset of the pandemic. With more free time, many are re-prioritizing their time towards active exercise routines to improve physical and mental well-being and to keep active during this difficult period.

Such a quintessential phenomenon can also be applied to the business climate. To focus on the exercises and routines that keep the business strong, healthy and active is the focus of driving the company forward in a time of crisis. At Detecon, our philosophy is that Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) act as the personal trainer to do so. As Paul R. Nivel and Ben Lamorte denote;

“OKRs are a methodology that seeks to ensure employees work together, focus their efforts to make measurable contributions that drive the company forward”

It is these measurable contributions (Key Results) towards aspirational goals (Objectives) that equip the organization with a healthy and active stance to drive the company forward in such a backwards time. Let’s begin your workout.

Ensure employee alignment (3 sets x 15 reps each)

The shift toward distributed workforces has thrown an ice cold bucket of water into the faces of many leaders. Gone are the days when you can walk 10 feet to the marketing team, 12 feet to the operations team, and 20 feet to the finance team. While remote collaboration tools have transformed those 10 or so feet into seamless video calls, it remains a challenge to maintain alignment throughout all employees in the organization as to what the most mission-critical strategic priorities are. A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) reveals that, on average, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its corporate strategy.

Distributed teams have mutated the classic structures of traditional organizations. With communication from the c-suite down to lower-level teams fundamentally limited, teams have the tendency to maintain communication between themselves, thereby blinding them from what is happening in the rest of the organization. This creates what I like to call autonomous mini-organizations. Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? While this is not necessarily a bad concept, it may become destructive if there is a lack of harmony and coordination between these autonomous mini-organizations. Think about a group fitness class where everyone in the class is doing a different exercise than that of the trainer, bumping into each other left, right and centre. It’d be utterly chaotic.

OKRs are accessible for everyone in the organization, enabling inter-team transparency and collaboration. Whilst teams design their own strategic OKRs to permeate intra-team clarity and collaboration, cascading the executive leadership’s OKRs throughout the organization calibrates a unidirectional focus on the priorities that matter the most to the organization as a holistic entity.

Outcome, not Output (4 sets x 10 reps each)

It is very easy for businesses to look at the output of their tasks, allowing them to become a prisoner of the events that are unfolding around them. As mentioned in another HBR article by Eric J. McNulty and Leonard Marcus, “leading through a crisis requires taking the long view, as opposed to managing the present.” Businesses must ask themselves, “do we want to lead through the crisis…or merely manage the response.” In answering this question, businesses must look not at the output of their tasks, but at the overall outcome of their strategies. “Yes, this product enhancement will allow our customers to access our resources quicker,” a product manager may ask themselves, “but will it make a substantial contribution to the overall success and continuity of the company?” There is little benefit in spending hours on a given task that makes only a 10% contribution, when lesser time can be spent on other tasks that may make an 80% contribution. Why would you do 3 sets of 15 reps of an exercise that clearly doesn’t feel right to you, when you can feel a good burn within the 1st set of another exercise?

Focus your efforts (3 sets of 1 min + 15 sec rest)

OKRs energize every team in the organization by establishing clear strategic priorities to focus on, not on to-do lists or action items. Two major features become apparent in this.

The first is to focus on a select few list of priorities. That is, to not focus on too many priorities. In the fitness world, we are bombarded with countless health food products to try and new fad diets to start. Of course, they all sound appealing, and all seem that they will help towards our health goals. However, it is inconceivable to possibly try them all at the same time. One may become overwhelmed, and their bank account wouldn’t be thanking them either. The idea is try them individually, and run with the ones that work for you. In business strategy, it is easy to fall into the trap of attempting to tackle every possible strategic priority at once – a “we need to do everything” mentality. The key is to narrow down and develop a select few into OKRs, and run with the ones that work for your business.

The second deals with the common human tendency to navigate towards the wrong strategic priorities for the current environment. In other words, to focus on the right priorities for the time. Leaders must ask themselves, “is this really a priority right now, and will it make a valuable contribution towards the organization’s success?” Why would I spend 3 hours a week working on a bicep routine, when really my end goal is to master a 10k run?

Ongoing discipline (3 sets x 12 reps each)

We have all experienced the struggle of motivating ourselves to do some sort of exercise, whether that be a short walk, 10 pushups or a 10k run. This takes discipline, and ongoing discipline at that. Having the discipline to undertake an activity stems from our innate desire as humans to search for intrinsic motivation. If we are intrinsically motivated to complete a task, change an existing process or adopt something new, discipline becomes a hell of a lot easier to master.

This falls upon the shoulders of leaders, who must rally their troops behind achieving the organization’s most pressing goals through ongoing support and reinforcement. When a group of hikers embarks on an expedition, it is the group leader’s role not to complete the hike for them, but to ensure they have enough food, water, sleeping bags, tents and general supplies so that they are equipped with everything they need to reach the top. It is imperative that leaders understand that in order to inspire their teams with the motivation and discipline to achieve their best, they must be guided with regular support and aid.

In the OKR world, such support can be embedded through regular (weekly or bi-weekly) one-on-one check-ins that evaluates and enables every team member to progress towards a key result. Capitalizing on every team member’s fundamental strengths, expertise and keen personal interests is particularly effective in energizing teams towards achieving their OKRs. As Peter F Drucker puts it in ‘The Effective Executive’, “an effective leader uses each individual’s strengths as a building block for joint performance.” By making strengths productive, individuals feel inherently supported in what they’re good at, and therefore inherently motivated to multiply the performance capacity of the whole team, and make progress towards overarching goals.

That being said. teams as a whole must have the discipline to constantly refer back to their OKRs in their everyday work. It is a matter of having them open on their computer, printed out on a piece of paper, or even framing it next to their family pictures. By having the discipline to constantly refer to their OKRs, teams can ensure that they achieve outstanding progress towards their most pressing strategic priorities.

Progress has to be measurable (5 sets x 7 reps each)

Every segment of exercise we complete should be measurable. When we measure how much weight a person has lost, we use a scale. When we measure the distance a runner has run, we use a FitBit. When we measure progress towards key strategic priorities, we use OKRs.

OKRs by nature consist of motivational and aspirational Objectives, as well as quantitative and stretchy Key Results. The Key Results are ideally designed to have a quantitatively measurable target that should not be influenced by subjectivity. Otherwise, progress would be botched by a pre-determined and baseless personal judgement towards the team’s achievements. The only true estimator for progress, or contribution to progress, is a concretely measurable figure of how close a team is to achieving 100% of their key result.

Cool down

To conclude (or ‘cool down’), OKRs enable organizations to handle rapid change, and to grow swiftly by focusing on measurable, outcome-oriented strategic initiatives that permeate clarity and alignment throughout the whole organization. They are your structured workout routine and personal trainer to take advantage of, to build business strength in challenging and restricting times. Keep your business happy, healthy and active.

Written by Paul Strasser

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