Last week, I was asked by a client something to the effect of: “How do we keep people accountable who keep delegating responsibility to others?”

The question of accountability in OKRs is a tricky topic to tackle as we set ambitious goals. But there’s more to the question above than just accountability. We guess that this individual is also not delivering on the OKR – that they aren’t making real progress.

One of the significant benefits of OKRs is the transparency it creates. When we set goals, we communicate what’s important to the entire company. And as we pursue those goals, we put into action what we’ve articulated in words. So we show, practically, what is vital to the organisation. And if we’re not progressing on those goals, it’s questionable whether they are a priority.

Three questions when considering accountability in OKRs

When a question like this comes up, we’d recommend asking three questions before proceeding. These three questions turn to the organisation first, ensuring that the OKR owner has been given the right resources to execute. So here are the three questions:

Does this person (with their team) have the capacity to deliver on this OKR?

Internal resources will always be limited – there will inevitably be too much to do. So the question to ask is whether we, as the organisation, have given this individual the guidance and leadership to prioritise this goal, above other competing goals? This will include “business as usual” goals, KPIs, or anything similar. If that person, with their team, doesn’t have the capacity, it’s unfair to expect them to execute on that OKR successfully.

Urgent tasks will always compete with the important goals. And we can’t neglect urgent tasks – they often pay the bills. So the number of important goals (OKRs) we can pursue needs to be found over time – for your team, it might be a commitment to one only. Other teams might find that 4 is their correct number.

Does this person (with their team) have the means to deliver on this OKR?

Secondly, we must ensure this person has the financial, human, leadership and other means to execute. Have we given them the necessary resources – financial support, internal alignment, leadership support, etc. – to get it done?

One way in which an organisation needs to provide support is financial. When we set OKRs, ensure that there is sufficient budget for executing those goals. Goals like “Increase traffic on our website” or “Build an amazing team” don’t easily happen without a budget.

Does this person (with their team) have the ability to deliver on this OKR?

Lastly, ask whether the expectation of this person is realistic. For example, do they have the skills and capabilities to meet this OKR? Or perhaps the mentors or coaches in place to assist them on the journey, especially if it’s a new strategic initiative to pursue?

Formal learning programs are useful for growing abilities. However, strategic goals are, by nature, new initiatives. We want OKRs to push the boundaries of what we know, to break new ground and reach new frontiers. In these cases, coaches and mentors are often more helpful – whether internal or external, ensure that there’s something in place to help individuals as they go on this journey.

If we can answer yes to all of the above, then it becomes a performance discussion. Then we can talk about whether that person is performing in line with expectations, and whether they have come up with new and innovative ideas to execute even when faced with roadblocks. If they haven’t, it’s perhaps the right time to have an alignment discussion to see whether this individual is aligned to the organisation’s purpose, ambition, and values. But not before reflecting on how the organisation has enabled this person first.

If you have questions, we’re always keen for coffee.

Get in touch so that we can brainstorm a few solutions together!

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