In November 2021 The OKR Group embarked on an exciting 12-month OKR rollout journey with one of South Africa’s largest corporate organisations.
After completing their strategy for 2022, their leadership team reached out to assist with the rollout of OKRs into one of the organisation’s divisions.
The leadership team sought to achieve three things: 1) focus and alignment in teams; 2) cross-functional collaboration between teams; and 3) alignment to the Group’s overarching goals and strategy.
The experience of implementing OKRs across multiple teams was filled with many learnings. Below, we share some elements of the OKR rollout process that were successful, and others that could be improved on. We always purport that OKRs is a continuous learning exercise; as Christina Wodtke says:
“OKRs are simple and hard. Running a marathon is also simple and hard. You don’t try to do it in one go. You build up to do it”
– Radical Focus, 2nd Edition
There were four key areas that enabled this OKR rollout to be a successful change management initiative:
1. Creating alignment through setting OKRs at an executive level
Our OKR journey began with setting OKRs at a leadership level. We have seen the benefit of first setting OKRs at this level with other clients as well. By adopting this rollout methodology, we were able to understand the divisions’ strategy as a starting point. In addition, we were also able to conduct the first OKR training to the leadership team, making them “internal evangelists” of the OKR methodology.
2. Driving alignment, commitment and trust through regular team meetings
We encouraged teams to meet on a fortnightly basis to create alignment, ensuring that each team had clarity on the overarching Group goals and team goals that were being pursued, both quarterly and annually.
These meetings were successful in creating team commitment and trust in the OKR methodology. In time, they also cultivated confidence in individuals to become more engaged, with team members asking thought-provoking questions and some teams even looking beyond their own focus areas and engaging in conversations with other teams to support and reinforce their OKRs.
“The time was no longer seen as another reporting structure but became a habit where mindsets and behaviours successfully shifted.”
– The OKR Group
3. Prioritising the learning journey through Reflect and Reset sessions
At the end of every quarter, Reflect and Reset sessions were scheduled with each team. The purpose of these sessions was to close off the OKRs from the previous quarter, celebrate the successes and reset OKRs for the next quarter.
We experienced the value of prioritising this time with teams as it offered everyone a few hours to be in one “room”, taking a step away from the day-to-day activities in the business and pausing to reflect and work on their strategy.
A phrase that we kept reminding the respective teams of was:
“OKRs is not a T-20 game, it is a five-day series.”
– The OKR Group
Emphasising that the results of the process will be felt over a long-term if teams engage and commit to the process of checking in and reflecting and resetting from the get-go.
4. Driving change from within through OKR Champions
It is important to empower individuals and give them the space to lead. To entrench the OKR methodology, we suggested that each team nominate an OKR Champion.
An OKR Champion is a member of the team who is the custodian of the OKR ‘culture’. They strive to integrate OKRs into culture and lifeblood of the organisation. Further, they are experts on OKRs, with a wealth of knowledge on the methodology.
By setting up each team’s OKR Champions through training and mentorship, we were able to successfully hand over check-ins to the Champions, enabling them to drive the process from the centre, increasing the sentiment of team ownership over their OKRs.
Improving the OKR Rollout Process
We often tell our clients in Reflect and Reset sessions that it is important to accept our blunders and identify areas for improvement that we choose to change to enhance the process going forward.
Below are three of the biggest challenges our team experienced in the OKR rollout.
1. Dwindling levels of engagement
OKRs is a methodology to progress the strategy of an organisation. And strategic initiatives, specifically in large organisations, are long-term initiatives, where progress is seldom seen over the span of a quarter. Owing to the engagement with the large organisation being over 12-months, the levels of engagement often dwindled.
To keep the team motivated and engaged, we ensured that short-term wins were shown and celebrated. To enable this, you need to focus on setting up short-term metrics in the OKRs – some Key Results where a shift can be seen within the next quarter.
“It is often difficult to stay the course over long-periods of time without the experience of major traction.”
To continue to maintain levels of engagement we continued to highlight the importance of celebrations during check-ins and Reflect and Reset. They don’t have to relate to the performance on the OKRs only – ask what this team has done particularly well in the past quarter.
Lastly, progress can also be seen in the changing of behaviours and the shifting of mindsets – which although less tangible than direct business benefits – are no less important.
2. The danger of slipping into a project management mindset
Rolling out OKRs to around 20 teams in a division certainly comes with a set of challenges.
Each team has their own approach, their own tooling preferences and ultimately a sub-set of cultures. This challenged us on a daily basis to strive to deliver a tailor-made OKR approach that we thought best fit the respective team needs, strategic vision and respective goals.
Each team had a unique set of needs and requirements that we had to solve in a way specific to them. It’s easy to slip into a project management mindset at this stage and just go through the motions, which negates the purpose of OKRs.
3. Too many tools and too little time
In this day and age we have a never-ending list of online tools at our disposal, each one serving a different purpose to help optimise the way we work. These tools become embedded in an organisation and their respective divisions.
Gtmhub, was already being used to track OKRs in another division and was thus the natural choice for our client’s division. Despite being well-entrenched and adopted in the other division, the addition of yet another tool to update with yet another metric was a challenge.
However, over time and with increased engagement with Gtmhub, teams began to see the value of the tool as they become increasingly aware of its functionalities beyond OKRs, including its reporting abilities with tailored insights, and its integration capabilities with various other applications, such as MS Teams and Jira.
“If you always hit 100% of your goals, you are not shooting high enough”
– John Doerr
OKRs are a widely used goal-setting methodology and can effectively be used to drive change in large organisations.
As one of the team members said,
“Our OKRs really helped to create the right focus, enabling effective trade-off decisions and providing the team with a north-star, anchoring us to our most important goals and ambitions”
In this, and many other ways, OKRs have the power to drive change in organisations and we are excited to continue to see the progress and shift in mindsets that rolling out OKRs catalyses in large organisations across the world.