We believe setting, tracking and delivering on goals are important. This is what OKRs are for. However, we’re also very cognisant of the fact that a goal management methodology like OKRs, which promotes outcomes-based goals, will fail without an enabling culture. The culture of the organisation needs to support distributed leadership and decentralised decision-making. It needs to create an environment of psychological safety so that teams can take risks and explore.

Psychological safety at school

I was visiting my son’s new school this week and had a similar conversation with the headmaster. We talked about – almost debated – their approach to scoring and grading learners. One of the things he mentioned was that the score is only about half of the learning. The other half consists of break times, social interactions, conversations and subjects outside of the formal syllabus, which they are very intentional about.

What we settled on was that scores and grades are necessary for progression – we need some way to measure whether we’re getting better. This is done through a report card, with a list of subjects, and grades next to each subject (sounds like KPIs?). But to prepare for life, we need to create an environment where learners can take risks and explore. Report cards are backed up by a rich and detailed write-up of the learner’s exploration journey.

What’s more, teachers are sometimes dumped into uncomfortable positions. During the first days of the Covid crisis, they explored various ways of remote learning before they found a suitable solution. Through this, they showed that everyone is fallible and modelled curiosity, thereby creating a safe space for learners to explore as well.

Into the organisation

Our organisations can learn from this. We should be creating environments of psychological safety for teams to explore and take risks. This is the enabling culture required for outcomes-based goals. We do this through leaders modelling what curiosity and exploration look like. They should be having regular conversations and one-on-ones to create context and not always focus on the metrics. And for some goals (specifically strategic goals that are articulated through OKRs), 100% performance is not the best. 70% might be better, because it means we were stretching and were willing to explore; we were willing to fail sometimes, but learn always.

Insights are often unveiled in casual conversations we have with clients, colleagues or friends – a point in time where both parties realise this is important stuff, and most people are struggling with it. These insights don’t wait for formal engagements – they happen over coffees and on couches. Our ‘couch coffees’ is a continuing series of posts where we’ll publish some of these insights – simple, short and sharp. They might be second nature to some; for others, they might be closer to epiphanies. For most, we hope they’re simply nudges in the right direction.

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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