12.18.2020

OKRs to Empower Employees

Setting company goals for leadership, not just management.

fictive kin office

As we continue to face the global COVID-19 epidemic, our digital experiences have replaced more aspects of our daily lives. For many of us, it’s our new way of work - for many more, it’s our way of safely connecting with distant loved ones during the holidays and other special moments. All over the world, we are increasingly relying more on our online experiences for our household needs, safe convenings, and our livelihoods.

But what does it mean to create memorable digital products and experiences? And how do you guide a team to do so, without sacrificing shared leadership and personal innovation?

Fictive Kin’s founder, Cameron Koczon says the team uses OKRs “to set the destination without micromanaging the journey.”

Founded in 2009 in Brooklyn, Fictive Kin is a full-service agency with a “tight-knit” team of approximately 30 engineers and designers. They partner with startups to make digital products faster, user-friendly, visually appealing, scalable, profitable, and secure. According to Koczon, the name “Fictive Kin” means people who are not related to you by blood but who are “basically family.”

“Fictive Kin is intentionally small,” Koczon explained. “[We] very often say it’s large enough to be dangerous, small enough to be interesting. That allows the agency to be very selective with who it works with.”

The Fictive Kin team also plays a consulting role, helping clients explore new markets, platforms, products, and technologies.

“We work with startups and then we work with people in big companies who want to act more like startups,” Koczon said.

FK meets OKRs

“Measure What Matters” introduced and inspired Koczon to adopt and champion OKRs for the Fictive Kin team. Attracted to the transparency, accountability, and structure of the framework, he believed it was a good fit for the young company and a great foundation for increased individual responsibility and shared leadership.

As the founder of Fictive Kin, Koczon doesn’t feel the need to be updated on every decision because of the ownership and authority OKRs allow.

“We want employees who are going to bring their brains and not just their hands,” he said. “It’s one thing to say and then it’s another to set people up to do. The theory of OKRs for us is that you give people high-level direction and allow them to do their thing inside of that framework. And that fits within the kind of company we want to create and sustain.”

However, setting OKRs in a fast-paced agency culture doesn’t come without its challenges - such as rapidly changing client needs.

“Agencies have a couple [of] unique properties,” said Koczon. “You are very responsive to your environment in an agency in a way that you are not in a company. So it can be hard to pick OKRs that you can really stick with because one month in your world is very different, 2 months in it could be different again.”

However, he noted that a quarterly cadence helps keep the team anchored while leaving enough space to center clients and meet daily expectations.

“I really believe in a quarterly cadence,” Koczon shared. “ I tend to like these objectives that work on a quarterly or even an annual basis and have quarterly progress.”

An additional challenge OKRs presented to the FK team was identifying key results that would meaningfully move the objective forward. Koczon’s advice for other teams is to stay rooted in the shared understanding of their purpose.

“Connect to the spirit of what you’re trying to accomplish - which is freedom for your team,” he said. “I think that without that appreciation, and understanding the responsibility is on you to really clearly define where we’re going right, it can very easily turn into a new-fangled tool for micromanagement - so top-down it becomes a checklist.”

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Fictive Kin’s Founder, Cameron Koczon, says OKRs are especially helpful at clarifying goals that are just as important - but less obvious - than revenue targets.

Facing the new normal

Fictive Kin’s OKRs also respond to the environment. In the beginning stages of the pandemic, the agency’s leadership team came to the consensus that they would not only keep their team together, but they would attempt to grow it and continue to position themselves as best as they could for the future.

“The number one objective this year, starting in April, was to survive 2020 and the pandemic without any layoffs,” said Koczon. “Survival is something to celebrate especially if you can keep the team together.”

As our world and our workplaces have rapidly changed, now more than ever, teams must rely on autonomy and trust more than they ever have before. Work cultures don’t have to change completely, but they must adapt to sustain engagement and unity.

What Koczon enjoys the most about OKRs is the flexibility the framework offers while simultaneously keeping everyone aligned and focused.

Not only do OKRs provide a meaningful and transparent road forward, but they also provide the freedom people need to own their work and meet their ideas and inspiration with a roadmap that will also take the company forward.

OKRs offer purpose and clarity while allowing for the trust and autonomy needed to meet this moment. Use the framework to guide the vision as you make room for the full breadth of talents, skillsets, and ingenuity from your team.

“If you’re using someone for their hands, then they kind of are replaceable,” said Koczon. “And if you’re treating them like a full human being with a lot of creative and strategic ability, then why would you ever want to do without that?”

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