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Here’s How You Can Achieve More by Focusing on Less

By: Matt Roberts



One of the hardest things you do in business is to knowingly, willingly and sometimes begrudgingly put down opportunities. However, when you do, something that feels magical happens. You get clarity on the goals you need to focus on as a company, as teams and workgroups.

Clarity matters because it makes days more straightforward. It will give you permission to maintain levels of performance, especially in areas that are considered good enough or not a priority to improve. Clarity gives you a tool to filter other demands and push them to a backlog.

I’d like to introduce you to OKRs and what you will gain by using the same goal setting framework used by Google.

OKRs have superpowers

Well, at least they feel like they have superpowers. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) have been around a long time. As an open-source goals-setting framework they have evolved to a stage where they work well. What does working look like and why are they used?

OKRs are a way of a company describing where it needs to be, unifying and aligning teams in considering how best to get there, and then get going. It’s a system for moving to more agile and autonomous ways of working. A workplace where priorities are called Objectives and success is known as Key Results.

What OKRs do not try to do is describe what everyone is doing, what is already working well, and the general business-as-usual aspects of running a company and team. OKRs are all about identifying and focusing on positive and significant change and committing to it in an open and transparent way.

High priority goals are not created in silos and hidden away in spreadsheets. OKRs are shared and collaborated on in cross-functional teams – they are talked about in team and company meetings. There’s nowhere to hide. What you have committed to, progress, problems and wins are all out there. So is help, support and collaboration.

Another OKR superpower is ambition. OKRs are great for teams who set the bar high. Even more so if they occasionally knock it off. 100% is not the only definition of success. The fact that the goal was a big stretch was encouraged during the planning of the OKR. Why would you set a goal where the chances of achieving 100% is low you might ask. The answer is innovation, learning and development. These are enhanced when goals are hard. They are not needed when goals are easy.

Did you know?

Google kicks off team meetings by sharing a risk taken in the previous week. This alone improved structure and clarity ratings by 10%.

Focus, focus, focus

With OKRs the Objective describes what needs to be done. It also describes why. The Key Results are the expressions of a collection of hard to achieve targets for a quarter.

It’s the day-do-day that achieves progress, or should I say week-to-week. With OKRs, weekly check-ins are where people discuss priorities for the week ahead, look to solve any blockers or dependencies and then get on with achieving them either alone or collaboratively. There is focus and agility in play every week.

The opposite is set-and-forget and tasks that are not related to goals. Both are the enemy of achievement and progress, and solved with both OKRs and agile ways of working.

Measurement matters

Used well, OKRs do not describe what you are doing, they describe the desirable outcome of the doing. This is why metric selection is so important. If you deliver that launch, that campaign, that activity, what will change?

Everyone keeps focused on improving the metrics that matter, as well as knowledge acquired and learning loops closed. We wanted to improve X by doing Y and the results were Z. The experimental approach to improvement allows for innovation, creativity and continuous improvement.

Future proof business

In a world that is full of uncertainty you need to be able to respond to change. You need to have an empowered workplace that can make the adjustments necessary to not just weather storms, but find opportunities. OKRs bring you this and more.

If OKRs are part of the performance management plans of pretty much every large tech company as well as the ones you’ve not heard of but soon will, you should check them out also. You will be starting a process where the result will be that you will achieve more with less, and create a culture of accountability, ambitions and ownership.

Published: June 8, 2021

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