Dear Andy,

I’m on my company’s Public Policy Team and we’ve been using OKRs for a few years. However, it feels like we struggle to make good use of them because so much of our work is necessarily reactive (i.e., we can’t predict now what legislators will propose and how much time we’ll need to devote to advocating on different bills). As a result, the things we put in the OKRs initially get crowded out by the more urgent work that emerges over the course of the half, and the team starts to feel like the OKR planning process wasn’t a good use of time. Do you have any advice on how to approach OKRs in this environment?

Thank you!


Hi Lindsey!

Thanks for writing in and for your great question.

Your team’s frustrations in this situation are understandable. No one wants to spend time working on work you can’t get to! My instinct, however, is that you may be more in control of your destiny than you think you are. Allow me to elaborate.

First, it’s possible that your OKRs may be trying to tackle too much at once, a lesson about “drinking from a firehouse” that our friends at Possible Health learned. Your OKRs need to reflect long-term progress, but break it into a few cycles of realistically aggressive benchmarks of progress.

Second, though you may not know exactly when policy changes will happen, I bet you probably know pretty well what issues are going to be on the docket in the upcoming months. And, though you may not know how a particular ruling is going to go, you do know they’ll either go one of two ways.

Instead of using OKRs in reaction to the whims of a slow moving, bureaucratic system, why not use them to get ahead of the game? If you know change is coming, consider using OKRs to assess your team’s readiness to pivot during these moments of turbulence. What will your future look like as a team if a ruling or policy passes in your favor? How about if it doesn’t?

If things go in your favor, what capacity do you need to have in place to leverage it fully? If it goes against your preference, how smoothly will you be able to adapt? Can you mitigate the effect on customers/clients, etc.? At the broadest level, how well are you able to sway policy, either through governing bodies or by mobilizing voters and communities affected? OKRs can be used as a roadmap to answer all of these questions.

Though I don’t know the ins and outs of your particular business well enough to suggest a specific OKR, consider writing one revolving around “preparedness,” with Key Results like “policy changes enacted” or “government officials who publicly support our position.” Yes, you still may be waiting around for rulings, but at least, with OKRs set in place, you’ll have a clear definition of how to successfully handle them when they come.

Thanks for writing in, Lindsey, and best of luck to you on your OKR journey.

Billy from the What Matters Team

P.S. Our fearless leader, Ryan Panchadsaram, goes into further detail on this topic here – I think it may be of use to you.


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