Improving Your Key Results… Even More!
Let’s keep going with best practices for our Key Results. Each of the considerations below will help ensure you’re making your OKRs the best they can be.
Leading with Indicators, Not Lagging
Remember our voting example from the previous lesson? When we considered the number of votes cast as a Key Result, we realized that vote counts for a political campaign are actually lagging indicators. When we know the vote count, it’s too late to change course so that might help us eliminate it as a Key Result for the Objective of electing our candidate.
Another example of a common lagging indicator is revenue. Understandably, plenty of people want to track revenue — but final sales numbers come at the end of a quarter. That’s the natural cycle of many sales cycles. So how can you be confident that you’re on track? Often there are steps we can track that are likely to result in revenue. Those are called leading indicators.
For sales, there are plenty of indicators beyond just revenue. Perhaps you can pay attention to the qualification steps — like signing an MOU or meeting with an organization’s leadership team.
When considering Key Results, look for leading indicators you can measure. If you choose leading indicators, you’ll get early warning signs when something isn’t going right. This allows you and your team to be nimble and change along the way, instead of only making a change at the end of your 90-day cycle.
TO DO: Do your sets of Key Results include leading indicators? Can you see how your Key Results might be able to give you early warning signs if something isn’t going right?
Pairing Quantity & Quality
Many teams write Key Results that are 100% quantitative. After all, Andy Grove once said, “Every Key Result has to be measurable.”
But in the pursuit of some of these quantitative goals, we don’t want to sacrifice quality along the way — that would defeat the point!
Our suggestion is that for every set of quantitative Key Results you have, include a qualitative one. This will help ensure you’re moving forward, and moving forward with an eye for quality — not just achievement at all costs.
Take a look at this real OKR from the revamp of Healthcare.gov. You can see that the Key Results describe both quantity and quality in service of the Objective.
TO DO: Do you have Key Results that are tracking quantities? How can you pair it with another Key Result that ensures quality?
Hold, Increment & Leap
Did you know that you can help direct the energies and tactics of your team with your Key Results? Each Key Result represents one of three kinds of progress: holds, increments, or leaps.
A hold tells your team that you want them to maintain. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a crisis and the priority is to simply maintain your operations as they are. You might then phrase your Key Results to hold. This would tell your team to use the same, or similar, tactics to what they’re currently using.
An increment tells your team that you want them to change a certain amount from where they are today. Perhaps you want to recruit 30% more web developers than you did last quarter and you phrase your Key Results for incremental change. This would tell your team that they’ll need to adjust what they’re doing in order to increase the outcome.
A leap tells your team that you want them to jump to a completely new state than where you are now. Perhaps you’re trying to reduce your carbon emissions by 100%. Sure, it’s a leap, but it tells your team that new, innovative tactics will need to be implemented in order to succeed.
TO DO: Are your Key Results measurements asking for holds, increments or leaps? Do those holds, increments, or leaps accurately describe the kinds of tactics you want your team to employ?
Summing Up Key Results
Do you need to run your Key Results through all the various checks we’ve described in the last couple of lessons?
Well… yes! It takes a few cycles of practice, but it’s well worth the effort. As you can see by now, how you write Key Results sets the tone for how your team will prioritize their time, choose tactics and measure their own contributions to the organization. Leaders who have been setting OKRs for years can still find it difficult to fine tune their Key Results and capture the exact change they’re trying to enact.
By considering the different facets of Key Results, you’ll develop your skill at identifying and describing what success looks like to your team, empowering them to do their best work and have confidence that you’re on track to achieve what you want to achieve!
Additional Resources & Further Reading
- Article: Improving City Hall in San Jose
- FAQ: Pairing Quantity and Quality Key Results
- FAQ: Sandbagging OKRs: Why Teams Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
- For a deeper dive on using OKRs within your organization and earn your OKR Certification in our Coursera course.
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