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Company Culture Leadership

Do OKR’s Damage Company Culture & Performance?

OKR’s have been a staple to startups and large companies for close to a decade. Executed right and they create a framework for teams to understand what is required to be successful. 

What Are OKRs

OKR’s are Objectives and Key Results that attempts to bring collaboration and goal setting across businesses with alignment at the centre of setting the objectives and the key results for the business. 

Setting Up OKRs To Succeed 

The issue is everyone uses OKR’s differently and this creates friction from how they are used vs how they were used previously. 

Bad OKR’s

When OKR’s are executed badly or in some cases wrongly, OKR’s divide people, teams and objectives.
Typically what happens is OKR’s go from aligning teams to misaligning the moment they are rolled out. Early and often buy in critical.

The terminology, the prioritisation and the cross functional element of OKR’s are lost and causes departments to break away and focus on their goals not the company or teams goals. 

OKR’s should tie directly to the one company-wide strategy, the work that is needed on OKR’s should be moving the business ahead and be deliberate in prioritisation to ensure everyone knows their role in the success of that key result. 

Fractions In OKRs

Very often OKR’s will split out products, projects and campaigns top-down and OKR’s will not easily be understood and will struggle to join up without a company wide explainer and reminder programme.

Often a dedicated leader is needed from the moment they are created to every time they are reviewed.

Team OKR’s can be undone in weeks and if they do not update the company with this failure this then has a knock-on impact on the business performance. 

Scoring Issue 

Another factor that is rarely considered is many OKR’s come with a stretch scoring system which means 70% is a good score, not 100% that is globally recognised. 

A stretch goal can work if you have a history with OKR’s and a company-wide agreement on what a good score is vs a bad score and if you hit the stretch goals how is everyone rewarded. 

OKR’s Create Two Tier Systems 

OKR’s have a tendency to create a two-tiered system, the first is some employees will follow the OKR’s by the letter of the law, others will not see the direct correlation which means they will go off and work toward other goals and objectives meaning many will only consider OKR’s as a secondary function vs the first set who consider OKR’s their only work to complete.

OKR Culture Impact

I personally have experienced OKR’s drive a wedge between the Product teams and Tech teams and typically Marketing teams but when done well bring everyone close together and celebrate everyone’s wins, whether that’s individual scores or department and cross-departmental scores. 

As we have said on a number of occasions, Company Culture is impacted daily and if top-down management of OKR’s is implemented you can see subculture emerge and a negative environment appear in your culture.

OKRs can create a blame system, this, in turn, creates a negative atmosphere and will drive a wedge between some teams prioritising OKR work and others who do not have the same investment. 

Lasting Damage From OKRs

Where OKR’s can create lasting damage is the rollout of OKR’s and lack of ownership throughout the business, you will have an owner of the OKR or workstream but this is often too high up in the org and not connecting regularly with the team working on the KR or key individuals working on their part play by play. 

A strong OKR leader will have used OKR’s before, (not just read the canonical OKR job measure what matters), have good buy-in from colleagues and be transparent in showing good use cases and call out bad use cases and guide back to the middle. OKR’s can kill confidence within teams and squads very quickly, an alpha leader or someone who does not take on feedback will ensure OKR’s fail and have a lasting negative impact vs a listener and a proactive leader.

How To Ensure OKR’s Have A Chance

The success and cultural win are: 

  • Aligning everyone 
  • Setting everyone up to know their part 
  • Celebrating small wins collectively early in the process 
  • Always think about how to communicate constantly 
  • When OKR’s led to conflict bring back together and review the friction point, who, what, where, when and most importantly why

Essential OKR Resources  

How Google Set’s OKR’s

Explainer Video Of Measuring What Matters:

John Doerr Ted Video

OKR What Matters Site: https://www.whatmatters.com/ 

Danny Denhard

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