Are You a Leader? Want Your Teams to Create Better OKRs? Then Focus on the True Definition of Commitment
Does Executive Prerogative Have Limits?
In the business press, at conferences around the globe, and in boardrooms far and wide, we talk endlessly about the importance of empowering employees, of driving engagement, and unleashing the creativity inherent in every employee. One of the methods frequently cited for harnessing the near limitless power of our people is allowing teams and individuals to craft their own Objectives and Key Results (OKR). The logic is simple, providing people with the opportunity to demonstrate their unique contribution to success gives them “skin in the game,” and highlights how they specifically add value to the overall corporate entity. As part of this conversation, you’ll often hear leaders espousing the value of having teams “commit to their goals.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way back here in the real world. In many companies, despite emerging neuroscience and years of evidence, senior management still rely on the old cascading model of forcing goals – those they believe will have the greatest impact on execution – down to lower levels, with no room for negotiation or compromise. Lip service may be paid to involving everyone in setting goals across the company, but when push comes to shove it’s the senior leadership team that is dictating what is tracked at each and every level, month in and month out.
Bottom-Up Engagement is a Good Top Down Strategy
This antiquated approach is doomed for a number of reasons, but I want to focus on just one, represented by a single word that was introduced in the first paragraph: commit. This verb, which can be traced to the late fourteenth century, comes from the Latin “Committere” meaning “To entrust, unite, combine, or bring together.” When, as a senior manager, you push OKRs down to the next level, inhibiting any discussion or room for individual adjustments, the last thing you’re doing is entrusting, uniting, combining, or bringing together. Actually, the opposite is true. You’re showing a complete lack of trust in the judgment of your teams, which will inevitably sow seeds of skepticism and hamper initiative in reaching the goals you alone consider worth pursuing. After all, who is going to commit to something they had no part in creating?
If, on the other hand, you foster a meaningful dialog with your teams, allowing them to thoughtfully consider and recommend the objectives they feel maximize their impact and have the greatest effect on overall company execution, then you are in fact entrusting, uniting, combining, and bringing together. Additionally, this simple and pragmatic process enables your team to create an emotional attachment to the goals, since they themselves were responsible for their creation. As a leader, you must recognize that in order for people to rally around an objective it’s imperative they have a say in its development. Of course, there are limits and boundaries must be established. Teams have to create objectives that will in fact advance the cause of strategy execution.
The Push-Pull of OKR Success
Ideally, as noted above, you should strive to engage your teams in a spirited discussion and negotiation. It’s not a matter of one side winning or losing. It’s about finding the right objectives and key results for all teams and individuals, those that facilitate alignment from top to bottom and accelerate your successful OKR Implementation.
Paul Niven, OKR Coach and author of Objectives and Key Results.