Deploy OKRs to align business objectives and operational execution

Sun 11 Sep 2022

OKRs are key tools for agile transformation because working in agile mode mobilises the fundamentals of human collaboration and teaches people to interact again.

Do you know what your company's objectives and ambitions are? What are the criteria for success? What are the expected benefits of your actions? Often, operational teams are not aware of the company's strategic objectives. They work on their ideas and projects but do not always have a clear idea of the direction the company wants to take. Without a clear understanding of these objectives, operational teams naturally find it difficult to measure the impact of their contribution to the ambitions of their company or entity.

Without a clear understanding of these objectives, operational teams naturally find it difficult to measure the impact of their contribution to the ambitions of their company or entity. What are the steps to take to reach these goals? How can we measure this progress on a daily basis?

The OKR (Objectives and Key Results) method answers these questions to a large extent, since it allows all levels of the company to be aligned around a common vision. We will then talk about agile operationalization of the strategy.

The OKR Method

Used by the most advanced companies in digitalization, the OKR method has existed for roughly ten years. Contrary to some preconceived ideas, it is not reserved for GAFAs but can be applied to all other structures. It materializes the results of actions taken by teams on a daily basis. It can be applied at all levels of a company: management committee, entity, operational team.

OKR is an acronym that combines two complementary and inseparable elements:

  • O for objective: it must be ambitious, not very quantified and understandable by all. It is the destination where the company wishes to go. Example: To give our customers a good time.
  • KR for Key Results: between two and four per objective, they must be measurable and actionable on a daily basis. They will serve as benchmarks to measure the achievement or non-achievement of the objectives. The KRs are ultimately the projection of the results that the company wishes to achieve, in fact: "I consider that my objective is achieved if I reach these results."

Example: Go from a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 35 to 40 on applications.

Why Is It a Key Tool In an Agile Organization?

Working in agile mode mobilizes the fundamentals of human collaboration and teaches individuals to interact again:

  • #Prioritize: prioritize projects by staying focused on the essentials for a given time.
  • #Communicate: facilitate communication with teams and the sharing of an overall vision.
  • #Empower: encourage team commitment by letting them set their own key results.
  • #Measure: identify progress concretely thanks to the dynamic and quantifiable nature of the key results, and thus manage your activity more effectively by giving you the possibility to quickly readjust your actions.

The OKR method fits in well with this state of mind and allows all the individuals in the same company to move forward hand in hand in the same direction

Challenges Encountered During the Deployement

Deploying OKRs may seem easy and intuitive. It is not. This deployment requires mobilizing, motivating and involving the teams around a shared vision and a common roadmap. It is a transformation to be managed.

The following steps are essential in the implementation of OKR:

  • Goal setting: there are several ways to set goals.

It can be done during a collaborative workshop allowing the teams to define the objectives and to associate Key Results (KR) to them. The members of the group then vote to prioritize the topics that seem the most relevant to them, taking care to argue their choice. If the voting phase is not conclusive, it is up to the leader of the strategic theme (the head of the entity) to decide.

This exercise often leads to deep discussions as participants focus on the fundamentals of the strategy: "Why are we doing this?” "Why is this issue a higher priority than another?” This work is even more fruitful if the teams in charge of carrying out the work themselves define the path to take to achieve the goal. Once this step is completed, participants verify the measurability of each KR and define the target value.

This exercise also promotes coordination between the different strategic themes and allows for prioritization, while taking into account interdependencies and risks. Once the OKRs have been defined, the teams can use them to define their annual roadmap.

  • Setting up a steering team

In order to manage OKRs over the long term and make them evolve, it is necessary to set up a governance system through a steering team. Its mission is clear: to be the guarantor of the application of the roadmap, to involve and make each individual in the management team responsible and to improve the operational efficiency of the teams.

  • Operational follow-up

Once the OKRs have been defined, they must be monitored by setting up an appropriate operational system.  Before defining it, it is essential to ask the leaders (division directors): what form should this operational follow-up take? How often should it take place? 

It is at this stage that misunderstandings between project members may arise. For example, some members perceive OKRs as an additional layer of governance, others as a classic KPI monitoring. To guarantee success, it is essential to create support for the methodology by reassuring people that it can be adapted to their workload and by demonstrating the benefits it can bring. It is important to remember that OKRs can be integrated into existing bodies: sponsor points, quarterly reviews, etc. Capitalizing on the existing is a good way to add value while facilitating the daily life of the teams.

In order to simplify the life of the management, it can be interesting to formalize a synthetic vision of all the OKRs and to share them regularly so that everyone can easily follow the progress.

  • Keeping OKRs Alive Over Time

Making OKRs a reality over time by integrating them into the daily life of the teams is the challenge to be met in order to succeed. This transformation will certainly require efforts in the short term, but it will undoubtedly be a key success factor and will accelerate the operational efficiency of the teams.

Soline De Boissieu

CXM Consultant