Author:
Billy Casey

Recently, What Matters co-hosted a Twitter Chat with Paul Niven (@PaulNiven5). Paul is an author, OKR coach, management consultant, and noted speaker on the subjects of strategy, OKRs, Balanced Scorecard, and strategy execution. The topic for this week’s chat was how to encourage leadership to adopt and utilize OKRs.

Here’s what Paul had to say, as well as some of our favorite responses from our community.

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@PaulNiven5: it’s difficult but not impossible! One idea is starting with a pilot to demonstrate success. Another idea is to hold a “proving” session with executives. Use it to show the benefits of OKRs: Focus, alignment, engagement. But you have to be ready to answer the tough questions!

@Mahany: This is a tough one. I would say if in a command and control type organization, chances of success would be low. If in one that allows autonomy there is a chance to show results and bring leadership along.

@lshufro: Yes, some leaders think of OKRs as a command and control vehicle…and are very surprised when results and engagement lag. Important to support leaders with a mindset shift.

@perfexcellent: You run into a problem if you encounter a CEOs who is a) Too busy to take time to learn #OKRs (d’uh) b) Not humble enough to learn it from one of their directs

@OKRs_Atruity: It is very challenging to successfully implement OKRs without C-Suite buy-in. It is one of the biggest components to a successful OKR Implementation. It is possible to run a program without C-Suite buy-in, but it will be an uphill battle.

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@PaulNiven5: I’d suggest linking OKRs to something your CEO is passionate about. Whether it’s quality, engagement, satisfaction (etc.) you can make a case for OKRs strengthening it. To broaden it just a bit I’d suggest “education” overall. Although OKRs are very popular, we can’t assume all execs are aware of and understand the model.

@OKRs_Atruity: Education is incredibly important! Not everyone knows about #OKRs and giving them the best tools to learn is so important to buy-in and adoption.

@Mahany: Depends on the CEOs primary drivers. Some are purely results focused and some more into seeing what similar leaders/organizations are doing. Share what’s relevant to the individual CEO & individual case. Eg now transforming has become even a bigger driver than last yr.

@Betterworks: This can be tricky…but what CEO doesn’t want a better way to align and motivate their team to execute on objectives? While there are numerous case studies that could be referenced, sometimes putting OKRs into practice with a small team first is the best example they need.

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@Betterworks: It’s not enough to set an #OKR and walk away. Conversations, feedback, and recognition are all key to making an OKR successful!

@PaulNiven5: Absolutely true! Execs (and others) show commitment to OKRs by using the system - creating OKRs, and most important, talking about them. Here’s a fun fact: 85% of management teams spend less than an hour a month discussing strategy. OKRs can change that!

@OKRs_Atruity: We usually see buy-in from leadership within the first few meetings. Once we set Annual and Quarterly Objectives for the organization, they start to actually see the alignment take place and have a “wow” moment. Also, we see buy-in once results start coming in too!

@PaulNiven5: That “wow” or “aha” moment is fantastic to experience! To get there it also helps for execs to show vulnerability - for example admitting to their colleagues they need help with an OKR. Executive commitment can foster the trust necessary for that to happen.

@lshufro: We have seen this too, and it is totally transformative. Something about stating the essential clearly, simply – and transparently tracking progress can bring teams together powerfully. Love these moments.

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@PaulNiven5: Demonstrating success is vital. I’d suggest ‘branding’ your implementation. “The (your company name) Performance System” for example. This often demonstrates that it has become ingrained in your culture as the way you operate. Be sure you have key roles well established, including: an OKRs Champion who is the resident subject matter expert, and a group of OKRs Ambassadors throughout the company that continue to share the successes of OKRs.

@Betterworks: Ideally, your OKR program shouldn’t be so easily dismantled by a seat change. But if it is, having someone who is already passionate and familiar with the program step in as executive sponsor can help to save the day!

@OKRS_Atruity: Hopefully, at this point, the entire organization has bought-in and wants to keep the program going. If you have buy-in from the entire organization, hopefully this won’t be an issue. A lot of this depends upon the success of the program as a whole.

@WhatMattersOKRs: This is an excellent point. When a company is successful at implementing OKRs, it becomes part of the culture and not dependent on a single champion or C-Suite team.

Final Take (From the What Matters Team)

We believe leadership must be behind OKRs for them to work. However, as Paul said, a pilot can be a good way to get started. We recommend focusing on setting good OKRs first and really having the CFRs on cadence before rolling it out too deeply in the org. Implementing OKRs into your company will take patience, resilience, and flexibility. With the right strategy and the right tools in your arsenal, however, you can make the case that OKRs can add incredible value to any company willing to give them a try. -Billy Casey

We’d like to thank Paul for sharing his wisdom with us, as well as everyone who contributed their insights to the conversation. Join the movement @WhatMattersOKRS and tune in for our next Twitter chat!