This week, we took some time out to have an incredibly engaging conversation with Sheldon Delport, Chairman of Liv Lanseria. This is no surprise – any conversation with Sheldon is filled with optimism and new ideas; it’s inspiring to an extent that you can’t deny his “enthusiastic visionary”-ness. Sheldon uses OKRs in his project planning process to bring accountability to his goals and move them forward with consistency. In the conversation, we unpacked some of his learnings, got some of his advice and explored his view on the execution process beyond simply setting goals.
Tell us about your first experience with OKRs.
I came across OKRs a couple of years ago when we read John Doerr’s book together as an organisation. I immediately identified that there’s something in the framework that could add value to my life, although the book didn’t give much away and was more anecdotal than anything else.
I like setting goals, so it was easy to latch onto the framework. However, I realised we have a weakness in tracking goals and keeping each other accountable. These are some of the elements that are addressed through the OKR framework.
The critical thinking behind OKRs brings consistency into our corporate space to limit some of the strategic fluctuations.
OKRs brings some critical thinking to goal setting – we are emotional beings. We tend to make decisions with emotions. And because people run companies, companies are often run on emotions. We have to lean into these emotions and use them, but we also have to identify that we can’t change direction every time we’re overwhelmed by emotion.
You have a well developed personal framework for execution – from setting goals with a purpose to reflecting and celebrating. Did you feel something was missing in your “execution formula” before you came across OKRs?
Inconsistency will steal your dreams. If you want to achieve anything significant – say you want to do an Ironman event – consistency is going to be a make or break factor. You can’t take on a big goal like that without the commitment to be consistent.
We don’t like accountability, but we need it most, to bring this consistency.
We are not held to account well, we don’t like someone asking us the tough questions. So would I say it was missing? Not necessarily. But when I came across OKRs it raised the awareness of accountability to such an extent that I could design it into my process.
You’re saying OKRs bring consistency. What does “consistency” look like for you?
Because consistency and accountability are linked, they have to happen together. Firstly, we check in on our OKRs once a week – this would entail updating progress and raising any flags where necessary. Then, I’ve combined my OKRs with the idea of “my best week”. This is a concept where I’ve designed what I would want an ideal week to look like, structured to get the most outcomes from my weeks. Part of my “best week” is 5 to 6 dedicated OKR slots where I work on the initiatives to progress my OKRs. Then lastly, I find there’s a lot of value in one-on-one accountability – more so than a group check-in. So I have a very brief fortnightly session with an OKR coach where we go through my OKRs and usually cover one or two questions as well.
What value did OKRs add to your project planning and execution framework?
I love ideas. My personality leans this way. This won’t ever change – I’m the most energised when I have more ideas and there are multiple balls in the air. But when I came across OKRs, it was at a fortuitous time where we needed focus in the organisation. This is what OKRs helped with.
It brought the wisdom of focus that leads to success.
The framework and the methodology introduce a new language, and this language gives you a framework to hang things from. It gives you the ability to say no to certain things. It gives you a place for initiatives and results and goals – and these are all different. But without the language to express it, you might never know they are different.
Tell us a bit more about how you deal with initiatives. Do these form part of your OKRs?
Initiatives are what drives your results. I set up each OKR as a project in my project planning or task management tool. The Objectives are the headings, and I link the Key Results to those Objectives. Then I do a lot of planning upfront, considering which initiatives I can pursue to meet my Key Results.
In my weekly OKR slots planned into my “best week”, I then work on these initiatives. I set the goals and outcomes upfront, and do a lot of planning of initiatives, which are the practical steps to achieving the goals. Then during the quarter, I tend to focus more on the initiatives and less on the OKR itself.
If you don’t focus on the OKR itself, how do you know that you’re still going in the right direction?
This is again where accountability comes in. You can drive accountability in many ways – sometimes it’s enough to simply be accountable to yourself, just by having written down your goals. Any OKR software tool will drive a certain level of accountability as well. However, having an OKR coach who holds you accountable is very helpful, because this person will remind you how we arrived at this particular OKR – why was it important for us to pursue that one? And why did it have to happen at that time? With this background, you can then decide together whether it’s worth resetting the OKR, or whether it’s still applicable.
Accountability is more than a person. Accountability has to link back to strategy and purpose – we have to consider why we’re focusing on this OKR, is it the most important one to progress the strategy and fulfil our purpose? It can’t be a tick box exercise we do every week, it needs to be more than that.
If you can give a piece, or pieces, of advice to anyone reading this, what would it be?
Firstly, you need to spend enough time on the front-end of the quarter. OKRs take time, but it’s worthwhile. Get this clarity of thinking, think about initiatives as well. Sometimes you’ll go from Objective to Initiatives and then your Key Results emerge from that.
Secondly, get an “OKR buddy”. This is accountability above and beyond a group check-in, it’s not a tick box. It’s more personal – 3 people at most. This is the one-on-ones to keep each other accountable, where you can look each other in the eye.