Three ways OKRs can make you a better leader

David Chase  ::  Leadership Development

Most people get hung up on the tiny details before they tackle the big stuff. Worrying about the 1% improvements should only happen once you have taken care of the 20-50% improvements.

I often get asked about my running. People ask me about the latest shoes or trends and if any of them will help improve their 5k time or help them run a marathon. Honestly, for 99% of people, the answer is no. The real answer to ‘how do I get better?’ is: Do the work. Run more, consistently, for a prolonged period. Only then is it maybe time to look for small tweaks.

The same is true as you look to use OKRs to translate the strategy to your team and drive the achievement of it. Instead of trying to write the perfect OKRs or have the perfect rollout plan, focus on the 20-50% improvements that will actually make you a better leader and help your team achieve great things - you can worry about the rest later.

Here are 3 big areas to start with that will actually make a difference:

1. Stay grounded in the why, and get started.

Nobody wants or needs to ‘Do OKRs’. Everybody wants and needs to get aligned on outcomes and have a common way to measure success this quarter. That is your job as a leader. Using the objective and key results framework to do it is easy and effective. Don’t get caught up trying to write the perfect OKRs. Instead, get to good enough and in agreement as a team, then use the time to be intentional about tie-off conversations, especially with other teams you depend on or depend on you - and get started. OKRs by their very definition give you the perfect way to test a hypothesis and learn. One quarter of real data is worth 100x more than endless debates about getting started, or if everyone is happy with the nouns and verbs. This article gives you great language to use when communicating and staying focused on the why.

2. Don’t just document, drive.

Actually talk about what you have written down. When is the last time just saying you will do something but not actually doing it worked? Well, the same is true here. No, OKRs don’t work if you write them down and then come back 3 months later and hope they have achieved themselves! With the good, not great, OKRs you just agreed on as a team, get into the habit of talking about them every week. Your team meeting should start with a scorecard that outlines every key result and what progress has or hasn’t been made since last time - and even more importantly, what are you going to do this week to make progress. If you focus your time as a leader and as a team on these few important things, they will improve. If you don’t, they won’t. It’s pretty simple.

3. Provide feedback and coaching based on actual impact.

Feedback and coaching that is divorced from the actual work your team member is doing or the impact they are having is mostly meaningless. It is performative to spend 1on1s talking about personal growth or goals that are not aligned or complementary to the team’s goals - or more importantly, to where the team member is actually investing their time. It turns into a tick-box exercise. Instead, talk about their work and where they are having challenges, and then provide coaching based on this real data.

Next time you see the ‘this will make you 1% better’ hack. Stop. Are you actually doing the basics? If not, start there.

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Additional Reading

Want to grow as a leader? It’s time to think like a scientist.

Want to grow as a leader? It’s time to think like a scientist.

OKRs give managers the framework to test new ideas about how to translate the strategy and drive execution.

You wouldn't start training without knowing why, so don't ask your team to.

You wouldn't start training without knowing why, so don't ask your team to.

Your job as a leader is to translate the strategy and connect your team's work to it.

Question the right things, not everything.

Question the right things, not everything.

Your role as a leader is not to manage everything and be on top of every detail. Rather, it is to build your team, translate the strategy, and then drive its execution by supporting the team, asking the right questions, and holding people accountable.