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OKRs

Agile and OKRs: What You Need to Know to Thrive in a VUCA World

It is no longer an assumption that the traditional approach to annual goal setting and review has run its course. The VUCA world demands more quick and adaptable business models.

While the agile values and methodology was initially created for software delivery, you can apply the same to transform how you set and achieve your business goals. 

In this article, we will focus on:

  • Relevance of agile and OKRs in the VUCA world
  • Importance of leveraging agile techniques for OKRs
  • Best agile and OKR framework for growing organizations

Why you need to reimagine goal setting in the VUCA world

Traditionally, goal setting has been a very static and long-term process for organizations. Here are a few key components of traditional goal setting and performance management:

  • Annual or multi-year goals with little or no interventions at regular intervals to realign on changing priorities
  • Top-down approach — goals being set by those at the top with minimal inputs from those working on the ground
  • Only annual feedback cycles and the inability to identify or address challenges in real time
  • Lack of flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances or situations, which are uncertain and ambiguous

This form of goal setting and performance management had relevance for organizations operating in steady and stable market conditions. 

However, in today’s VUCA world, the pace of change is skyrocketing and organizations unable to tide with the same are finding it extremely difficult to survive, let alone thrive. 

Some of the reasons to reimagine goal setting for VUCA world include:

  • Increased globalization requires businesses to be agile and adapt to changes at all times
  • Focus on creating short term goals and action plans
  • Need to relook at business priorities due to changing market conditions and customer expectations 
  • Need to incorporate constant feedback from diverse stakeholders
  • Need to focus on collaborative goal setting over top down command

Relevance of agile and OKRs for growing organizations

While it may not be apparent in the first look, agile and OKRs are quite complementary and combining the two can be a great step for growing organizations. Here’s why —

  • OKRs can help you understand the end goal and envision what success will look like. 
  • On the other hand, the agile methodology can enable you to create the right roadmap with frequent experimentation to reach the OKRs successfully. 

Here are a few reasons why you should combine agile and OKRs for your organization:

  • Set shorter goals for each quarter with the flexibility to look at the results in real time
  • Agile iterations based on learning which can be communicated across teams 
  • Shorter feedback cycles which prevent investment losses that might occur if the whole project/ goal has to be reworked
  • Continuous improvement with frequent retrospectives which can enable you to reflect on what is working well
  • Focus on collaborative goal setting and performance management with team autonomy
  • Agile approach to progress tracking

How to use agile techniques for OKRs

Now that it is clear why working agile and OKRs together makes sense for growing organizations, let’s quickly explore the top ways in which you can apply agile techniques to your OKR framework to make goal setting and performance management suitable for the VUCA world. 

Agile Value 1: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Ensure collaborative OKR setting, assigning OKR champions and the right team members to execute the same
  • Facilitate clear understanding and communication of the intention and expectation behind each OKR and the responsibility for every team member

Agile Value 2: Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Focus on clear outcomes and key results instead of comprehensive literature on why something is important
  • Facilitate shorter feedback cycles to gauge challenges early on and ensure feasibility of the OKRs
  • Reduce administrative overheads and complex processes related to OKR setting and progress tracking by using a simple, integrated OKR tool

Agile Value 3: Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Ensure continuous development by taking real time feedback from internal customers i.e. stakeholders in the leadership

Agile Value 4: Responding to change over following a plan

  • Facilitate dynamic planning over a static plan with quarterly OKRs
  • Ensure adaptability to change, uncertainty and ambiguity
  • Promote short cadence to gauge achievability and relevance of key results early on

Best agile and OKR framework

In this last section of agile and OKR for better goal setting and performance management, we will uncover the top framework. 

We have combined the best components of different frameworks like waterfall goals, delivery agile, scaling, full stack agile, into a single framework with 5 major components that can help you enhance the complementary potential of agile and OKR 

This approach can help you leverage the benefits of agile methodologies and OKR framework to impact all aspects of organizational structure for achievement of goals, including the culture, strategy, initiatives, tactics, etc. The framework is premised on:

1. Create value based OKRs

  • Focus on creating value based OKRs instead of activity based
  • Activity based OKRs are effective for specific projects, but for organizational goals, the focus should be on value
  • Instead of focusing only on the outcomes, have a clear understanding about how each of the outcomes can create value for the organization
  • The activities for each OKR should be a part of the agile roadmap and not the end destination

If you are struggling with combining agile and OKRs for your organizations, chances are you are focusing on activity based key results which often resemble agile steps, leading to confusion and inability to meet goals. 

2. Facilitate horizontal alignment for shared OKRs

  • Encourage collaborative OKR setting with realistic timelines and short intervals
  • Make OKRs team/ department specific and acknowledge avenues for collaboration and alignment between teams on shared OKRs
  • Acknowledge OKR dependencies between teams and facilitate transparency and horizontal alignment
  • Avoid splitting OKRs for a shared goal between teams, rather create opportunities for working together

For instance, if you have an event coming up and wish to successfully execute the same, the objective will be common, with specific value based key results for each team.

Objective: Successfully execute the 7th edition of our annual event

Key Results

  • Get 1000+ unique registrations
  • Raise INR 20,00,000 in sponsorship
  • Curate 5 high impact panels
  • Get 10+ media and affiliate partners
  • Get 5000+ impressions on social media with organic promotion

If you look closely, while the objective is shared, key results are spread across sales, marketing, and even product/ services teams

3. Combine quality and quantity results

Your agile and OKR framework should enable you to get the best of both worlds when it comes to results. Agile results by nature are qualitative in nature and focus on the features that you wish to ascertain in a specific period of time. On the other hand, OKRs are driven by metrics. Thus, you can use a combination of the two for effective results:

  • Use OKRs to validate goals set using the agile methodology
  • Ensure each key result has a quantitative (data) and qualitative aspect (value)
  • Use a combination of agile and OKRs to ensure that your progress is positively impacting the organization

The combination can help you create an ideal balance between outputs and outcomes which are both critical when it comes to goal achievement and performance management. 

4. Promote use of data

  • Leverage data and evidence to create your agile based OKRs
  • Instead of creating OKR based on leadership opinion alone, validate the same with market study
  • Don’t rely completely on hypothetical representation, undertake primary and secondary research to ensure relevance and perceived achievability

Pro-tip:

Using data and not relying solely on opinions will help you set agile OKRs which don’t under or over estimate the goals. For instance, if the market data on traffic to a new website in your industry is 20,000 clicks in one week, your OKR can focus on reaching 25,000 to make it aspirational but achievable up to 80%. 

However, if you set the target at 50,000 or above, it will become too far fetched and the team might not even strive for it. On the flip side, if the target is only at 10,000, it will not encourage your employees to push the boundaries. Thus, you need to replace opinions and command OKRs with data backed experimentation.

5. Build self organizing teams

  • Provide you teams with a clear idea of what the larger vision looks like
  • Encourage them to set their own OKRs and help with a direction to achieve the same
  • Facilitate team autonomy and empower your team members with the right tools and resources like SuperBeings to not only set OKRs, but also track progress in real time and grade them at the end of the cycle. (Learn more)

Self organizing teams are important for growing organizations as they proactively take onus and ownership of achieving OKRs and lead to a greater degree of success. Step away from controlling detailed plans for each OKR and encourage the leadership to provide direction. 

Wrapping Up

To conclude, if you combine agile and OKR, you have for yourself a clear model for success which you can easily apply to goal setting and performance management. Furthermore, leveraging the right technology resources can help you stay on track and enable you to thrive in the VUCA world. 

OKRs

How to Create a High Performance Culture Using OKR Methodology?

Like most fast growing organizations, you might also be leveraging the OKR methodology to set, implement and facilitate effective goal setting to maximize growth. If not, you should start using OKRs ASAP.

OKRs not only provide an excellent goal setting framework but also drive high performance when implemented strategically. Most importantly, with enhanced goal visibility and transparency, OKRs ensure that everyone is on the same page which is the foundation of a cohesive and high performing culture. 

In this article, we will discuss 8 ways in which you can adopt the OKR methodology to build a thriving company culture.

Use OKR methodology in 8 ways

1. Focus and clarity

A high performance and thriving company culture is based on the foundation of clarity and focus. When there are 100 things to focus on, your employees will eventually lose sight of what’s actually important and might feel burdened with non-priority tasks. This will lead to a poor employee experience and limited productivity, both situations that prevent an impactful culture.

However, when you apply the OKR methodology, you will be able to limit your focus on 3-5 top priorities which will attract attention, energy and efforts across the organization. You will then be able to create a high performance culture by dedicating all your resources to the key priorities to realize impact. 

2. Collaboration and alignment

A culture that thrives on collaboration, teamwork and alignment is one which creates maximum impact. The OKR methodology can help achieve this in an effective manner. On one hand, everyone is clear about their role in the OKR achievement, which makes collaboration seamless because everyone is on the same page and no one steps on the shoes of others. 

On the other hand, OKRs can help your employees align their responsibilities and tasks with the overall vision of the organization, motivating them to contribute to the big picture. 

To learn more about how to align teams using OKRs, read this

3. Agility and resilience

Recent times have shown that uncertainty and ambiguity will continue to mark the new normal. Thus, a culture of agility, resilience and responsiveness is critical for fast growing organizations. The OKR methodology can help achieve the same. 

OKRs are cognizant of the changing environment and have the flexibility to be adapted to the same. 

More importantly, you can leverage the OKR methodology to foster a culture that focuses on outcomes and is not fixated on the tasks to achieve the outcome at hand. 

4. Continuous engagement and reflection

One of the top challenges of building a great company culture is a siloed approach and annual reflection. This leads to surfacing of major risks and problems which result in high rates of attrition, absenteeism and lower levels of motivation, productivity, etc. 

However, the OKR methodology adopts an approach of continuous engagement and reflection. You can create a regular cadence to check OKR progress for each of your team members, even daily is effective. 

This continuous engagement and reflection can enable you to preempt risks before they surface and leverage the power of communication to address them in real-time. Invariably, a culture built on continuous engagement leads to greater impact and high levels of performance as well as employee satisfaction. 

5. Transparency 

The lack of transparency is one of the key obstacles for many fast growing organizations that seek to create a thriving company culture. A way out often seems difficult to navigate. Fortunately, the OKR methodology can help address this challenge as well. When you use OKR, especially with the support of an effective OKR tool, you can facilitate high levels of transparency. 

Everyone in the organization will not only know their role, but also will have a complete view of the level of performance for others. Such transparency can help you increase coordination of efforts and give everyone the visibility of what’s happening across the company. 

6. Non-hierarchy

You may agree that most fast growing organizations these days seek to replace a strict hierarchy with a more flat organizational structure that facilitates inclusion of diverse ideas, thoughts and opinions. However, many struggle when it comes to actually implementing this thought. 

Adopting OKRs can solve this problem.

By nature, the OKR methodology is based on a collaborative foundation where a top-down approach compliments a bottom-down approach for goal setting. 

This suggests that while the skeletal structure of the goals might be laid down by those in the top leadership, you can give all employees the freedom and autonomy to create OKRs for their teams and verticals. 

When your employees participate in setting the OKRs they have to execute, the level of ownership is much higher. Thus, you can leverage the OKR methodology to create a thriving culture built on greater ownership and a flat organizational structure. 

7. Open communication and feedback

With a focus on continuous engagement and reflection, the OKR methodology can help you facilitate open communication and feedback. Many studies have shown that a culture that facilitates regular feedback along with open channels of communication is more likely to thrive than one which does not. 

In the OKR methodology, when you constantly track your OKR progress (download our free template for tracking OKRs), you will be armed with data backed insights to offer regular feedback for your employees. Furthermore, you can also leverage the same to start meaningful conversations with your team members in case you feel that there is any kind of disconnect. Such open communication can help you create a truly inclusive culture when employees feel their voice is heard. 

8. Accountability and recognition

Finally, a company culture that thrives has two major components supporting it, accountability and recognition.

  • On one hand, only when your employees are accountable will they give in their 100% to create a high performance culture. 
  • On the other hand, if you don’t recognize the efforts of your employees frequently and in an effective manner, they are bound to feel demotivated with a lack of encouragement, leading to a poor employee experience and culture. 

The OKR methodology is an answer to both these challenges. 

  • First, being regularly reviewed, tracked and organization wide visibility makes accountability a given for fast growing organizations leveraging OKRs. Since everyone knows what the other person is responsible for, there is a development of a culture of accountability. 
  • Second, with regular tracking, monitoring individual progress becomes seamless for managers. Invariably, they can track the performance of their team members and recognize efforts in real time. This leads to a culture of recognition which is bound to see high levels of engagement, motivation and satisfaction. 

Empower your culture with the OKR methodology

Now that you know how the OKR methodology can help you in many ways to create a thriving culture, it is also true that as a fast growing organization with multi-pronged focus, leveraging OKRs is a challenging task. To address the same, you can collaborate with an integrated OKR tool like SuperBeings to automate the OKR adoption and maintenance.

With SuperBeings, you get to — 

  • Keep OKRs at the center of your business activities by aligning everyday tasks 
  • Reduce friction in goal management with zero context switching (by integrating Slack, Teams and Gchat)
  • Stay ahead of risks with a bird's eye view on key OKR status as well as compare progress over time with automated daily OKR tracking
  • Connect OKRs with Meetings tool to automate OKR check-ins and empower managers with data-backed AI driven actionable templates for meaningful conversations

Learn more about the OKR tool here. Otherwise, to see this in action, book a quick call with one of our experts. Also, get all your questions answered on the same. 

See Also

How to Run a Successful OKR Progress Review  

The complete guide to adopting OKRs (PDF)

Master OKRs in just 10 days: Free email course

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