Incorporating Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) into leadership development strategies offers substantial benefits for organizational success. This guide delves into how OKRs empowers leaders, from Heads of Talent and Chief People Officers (CPOs) to Chief Learning Officers (CLOs), in setting measurable goals, aligning teams towards shared objectives, boosting communication, and driving overall success.
How OKRs benefit your Leadership Development Strategy
The future of business relies on developing leaders who can adapt to the needs of their people in a rapidly evolving workplace. But what are the components of a successful leadership development strategy? And where do you begin to create one? Incorporating Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) into leadership development strategies promotes clarity, engagement and accountability. OKRs help leaders align teams towards a common objective and set measurable goals that enhance communication — and drive success. Here’s how…
What is Leadership Development and why does it matter
Leadership development is the process, activities, education and actions people take in order to become better leaders. Developing leadership talent can make or break a company. While there are many factors that make good leaders, here are a few important ones to aim for:
- Transparency: Good leaders know how to make strategy and objectives clear, providing enough guidelines and information so people can understand what the next right decision is, even when they’re not in the room.
- Communication: When it comes to being great leaders, creating clarity and providing direction is one of the most powerful levers you can pull. Expanding a leader’s tools for what to say, how to say it (and when) can help any employee perform better.
- Distribution: As organizations grow, it becomes increasingly important for effective leaders to delegate decisions and authority. Good leaders empower teams by providing enough context and freedom for teams to decide how to achieve an objective, and to consider the impact of their decisions on others.
- Preparation: CEOs aren’t the only ones who need a succession plan. Is your team set up to step up if/when someone important leaves? How well your team can function whenever that happens is one measure of your leadership development.
- Investment: When employees feel valued and know investment in their growth is also prioritized, it drives more engagement and retention.
Inspiration: Gone are the days of barking orders (we hope). The best leaders today inspire others into action rather than dictating it.
Components of a successful leadership program
When the workplace is changing rapidly, how can you build the right leadership development program? What should be included? In no hierarchical order, here are some of the pieces to build into your leadership development program:
Strategic thinking and execution
A huge component of a successful leadership development strategy is ensuring you have the best people on the ship and ready to step up. Without a structure and plan in place, nothing can be formalized. Leaders in training need to learn how to break down goals into smaller, more actionable steps, as well as how to motivate others. This is where OKRs can help (more on that shortly).
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB)
While there are universal components to consider, future-focused organizations need to develop different kinds of leaders. From a DEIB perspective, make sure your leadership development strategy is working for all the different kinds of potential leaders in your organization. This includes different leadership styles, different ways of thinking, as well as leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Encourage leadership behavior
How are people who show strong leadership skills rewarded in your organization? Leaders exist at every level of your organization, not just ‘the top.’ If someone in your organization shows leadership potential, it helps for them to see a clear path. In other words, are the runways in your organization long enough for the talent you nurture? Do good leadership behaviors get rewarded consistently and at every layer of the organization? How many executives and senior leaders come from internal hires?
Coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship
No leader succeeds alone, and support is an integral part of any leadership program. Leaders need both role models and advisors to learn from, people with first-hand experience to help them navigate and grow. Coaches, which are usually external, offer a safe space to discuss issues, talk through challenges and provide unbiased support. Both help leaders to foster Conversations, Feedback and Recognition (CFRs), a key component in OKRs.
- Conversation is communication about the work itself, the progress, the tactics, and unblocking issues
- Feedback is communication that’s intended to improve or change performance
- Recognition is communication that shows appreciation for a contribution
Leaders who use all three greatly improve how they and their teams communicate. And, when you pair these with OKRs, you become a learning organization and one that continually improves.
Lastly, don’t forget sponsorship. A sponsor is a senior leader who’s willing to champion a rising talent. By putting their reputation and credibility on the line, they open doors and opportunities for the developing leader. Many times, sponsors are informal relationships. Formalizing it as one component of your leadership program can help your leadership talent pool flourish.
Benefits of combining Leadership Development with OKRs
As Steve Jobs once said, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” That requires an ability to see and communicate an inspiring horizon - as well as the benchmarks of success along the way.
A vital component of any leadership program is teaching your future leaders how to talk about your organization’s priorities. They must be clear, inspiring, actionable and - measurable. That’s why Objectives and Key Results are foundational to leadership skill. The OKR methodology can help anyone in your organization, regardless of their seniority, to identify and share goals, track progress proactively and foster an environment of both psychological safety and intellectual honesty.
What is the OKR methodology
Think of OKRs as the missing link between your tools for strategy and for execution. OKRs offer a common language for an organization’s priorities, and a framework to get everyone to move together towards a common goal.
One leader who knows about the link between OKRs and leadership is Fictive Kin’s founder, Cameron Koczon. “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.” Their leadership model emphasizes a lot of control delegated to the frontline workers rather than consolidated to “management.” To make this model work, everyone has to understand where they’re headed, how fast and far they need to go, and what considerations they need to keep in mind beyond making ‘more money, faster.”
While learning to craft a great OKR and to track it through a cycle takes time to do skillfully, it doesn’t require you to know any special jargon or code. In fact, that’s part of its strength - it pushes leaders and team members to express direction in the simplest, clearest terms. The more your leadership development program cultivates this skill, the sooner you’ll see success.
Implementing a leadership development strategy is one of the most important undertakings a business can do. It’s also no small feat. OKRs help leaders learn to set measurable goals, align teams towards a common objective and enhance effective communication.
If you want to learn more about using OKRs to develop leadership in your organization, take our OKRs 101 course or sign up for our Audacious newsletter.