Creating OKRs in a Maze

Creating OKRs in a Maze

Have you ever had that dream where you’re trapped in a building, running down hallways, yanking open door after door, only to find yet another long empty hallway? At the very least it’s frustrating to be hopelessly lost without bearings, but it can also be frightening to lose control over the situation you find yourself in. Creating OKRs isn’t like a bad dream (we hope), but it can sometimes resemble being ensnared in a maze. The good news is that with a little diligence you can find your way out. That point was brought home to us in a recent workshop with a Fortune 500 client.

We had participants in the workshop team up to conduct a simulated OKRs coaching session. To enhance the challenge, we ensured the coach and “coachee” typically didn’t work closely together, forcing them to utilize best practice OKRs development techniques; principally good questions. After the exercise we asked participants describe the experience. Here’s what one new OKRs coach shared with us:

“I was participating in a practice session where I was coaching an individual on creating a new OKR. In this particular case, we were starting froScreen Shot 2016-11-27 at 2.08.37 PM.pngm scratch – together we laid out her team’s mission statement and determined a key objective for the quarter. The problem was in how to measure the value of the objective and how to determine success at the end of the quarter – there were no clear metrics associated with the objective at this time, and she had no ideas how we could start to apply a quantitative measure of success. I asked her question after question in an attempt to learn more about her business, and find a way to articulate a key result associated with the Objective. I envisioned the process as a giant maze, where the “Golden key result” was at the center. If I asked the right question (or series of questions), it would unlock an “Aha!” moment and we would figure out the key result. So each question and answer felt like a path to a possible dead end (from which we would backtrack) OR a step in the right direction to the golden key result.”

While creating effective objectives is no simple task, identifying meaningful key results that will move the needle over the following twelve weeks is typically the greater of the two challenges. Finding the “Golden” key result often does require going through a maze, as noted above. However, if you follow the advice of our coach and keep asking questions, eventually you’ll find your way. If you’re stumped as to a good key result for an objective, keep digging in with question after question. One of the most important you can ask is “What do you mean by that?” When the curtain is peeled back on a seemingly innocuous term or phrase it can often lead to insights. Your role as a coach is to cultivate a “Beginner’s Mind,” recalling that in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts there are few. Don’t be afraid to look naïve or even uninformed. Just keep burrowing with sincere questions and eventually you’ll unearth the golden key result.