Without goals and objectives, we blindly leap from crisis to crisis. Short-term needs become our sole focus and we always settle for less. Objectives and key results (OKRs) don’t just give you a direction, they also motivate and stretch you and your team. With the right OKRs, you can make your vision a reality but you need to lay the foundations first. Both hard and soft skills training are key building blocks to reaching OKRs.
Peter Drucker, the Father of Management, was one of the first to state that objectives should come first, not numbers in his revolutionary theory of management that launched in the 1950s. This gave rise to OKRs, a goal-setting tool, still implemented today by both large and small companies across the world.
Research clearly shows that goal-setting drives effectiveness. The OKR framework successfully applies this concept by ensuring that the defined quarterly objectives and key results (OKRs) are linked to the mid-term goals as well as the company goal, mission and vision.
Furthermore, OKRs focus on the top priorities while being specific and time-bound. They also work well alongside key performance indicators (KPIs). The main difference between KPIs and OKRs is that OKRs are strategic and usually measured quarterly. On the other hand, KPIs monitor the business continuously.
Today, businesses accept goal management as the norm. Nevertheless, many companies and teams struggle to set the right OKRs. Goal setting is hard and many never learn the skills to do it well. Sadly, this leaves vague, irrelevant goals that are more successful in demotivating people rather than supporting employee engagement or business performance.
Three ways setting objectives and key results impacts culture:
- Promotes self-efficacy. OKRs can be highly motivating because they validate our skills which can help reinforce our belief in ourselves. This mindset further promotes resilience and a growth mindset such that we believe we can recover from mistakes and keep moving forward.
- Drives intrinsic motivation. OKRs are a learning framework because employees need to fine-tune their skills throughout the quarter to keep meeting their stretch goals. Meeting new challenges is an integral part of intrinsic motivation.
- Generates opportunities for flow. When you set challenging goals for teams, you create an environment of focus, clarity and balance between challenge and skills. This is the basis for reaching a flow state which in turn, leads to greater effectiveness and fulfillment.
The right skills take OKRs beyond excellence
The OKR methodology drives stretch goals through a scoring system. To give you an idea, each implemented OKR has a set of 3 to 5 high-level objectives which each have 3 to 5 measurable results. These measurable goals are then scored on a scale of 0 to 1 where anything below 0.4 is considered to be in the red. Anything above 0.7 or 0.8, depending on the team members and their agreement, is considered delivered. The scores in between mean that the high-level objective is still in progress.
The main point is that if you don’t measure something, you don’t know how you’re progressing. Setting goals has to include a way for people to know how they’re doing. Of course, they’re usually ambitious goals but OKRs still need to feel achievable in order to motivate people.
The good news is that there are several OKR tools available to help teams and individuals track their OKRs and overall progress. These tools, or software apps, allow you to communicate, track and monitor goals at both the business and the team level. Once you achieve the objective, it’s important for the team to complete the framework by reviewing lessons learned and applying any required systemic changes to the next OKR cycle.
All this might sound straightforward as a process. Nevertheless, setting objectives is both a skill and an art. On one side, you need to understand enough about how businesses work to see the connection between top-level long-term goals and the short-term daily focus. On the other side, you have to be in touch with what drives people to achieve OKRs.
Being able to connect people’s intrinsic motivators with OKRs demands emotional intelligence and expert communication skills. Without these skills, the risk is that employees ignore OKRs or use them simply as vanity goals.
Top three soft skills for achieving OKRs:
- Emotional intelligence. It’s now clearly understood that self-awareness, rapport and compassion drive performance by engineering the right culture. Research now also shows that emotional style impacts others’ moods and behaviors through something called mood contagion, as this HBR article on primal leadership explains.
- Communication. Another important factor to enable OKRs is to be able to promote the vision to make it feel real and achievable. Top leaders know how to flex their communication style depending on who they’re speaking to and what situation they’re facing.
- Influencing. A large part of implementing a vision is to influence people to make it happen. This isn’t about forcing people to do things. It’s about leveraging soft skills to find the common values and passions that make people believe in the vision so that they want to follow it.
Using skills coaching to support the foundation
Achieving stretch-level goals doesn’t just happen because they’ve been incorporated into good OKRs. People need to feel motivated and driven to work on them. Of course, part of that drive is their own intrinsic motivation. Then there’s extrinsic motivation.
As this study shows, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation impact employee engagement. While the most common extrinsic factors include salary and job security, it also encompasses relationships with team members and receiving the right form of praise.
Managers with strong leadership skills, often developed from working with a coach, can generate such an environment with a culture of positivity and encouragement. They also need a high level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence to know how much to persuade through rapport and common ground. This is particularly important for achieving team OKRs where collaboration, mutual appreciation and trust are critical.
Leaders need support to get to those levels of emotional intelligence. We all have the innate traits to master emotional intelligence but it takes commitment. Countless studies show that coaches are a powerful aid to engender mindset change and personal growth.
This study specifically highlights the benefits of coaching on both well-being and, most importantly, leader identity. It further goes on to describe how leadership coaches encourage humility and alignment to a wider purpose. With this mindset, leaders are better able to cultivate the positive type of work environment needed to drive OKRs and higher performance.
Three ways coaching impacts behaviors that drive OKRs:
- Explore leaders’ assumptions and biases. OKRs can sometimes be miscommunicated or even misunderstood. Talking through biases with coaches is a safe way to work through them that’s both motivating and accessible to leaders.
- Space to explore. One of the most powerful aspects of coaching is that leaders can try out different behaviors while someone points out their blind spots. This is critical for becoming an agile and adaptive leader.
- Encourage a growth mindset. OKRs are ambitious goals and things can go wrong. Without a growth culture, teams can drag themselves down into feeling helpless. Instead, coach leaders to develop their own system to keep a pulse on employee mood and overall drive.
Provide the right learning to drive OKRs
Setting the right OKRs that are clearly defined and easy to measure is a skill like any other. Employees and leaders need to know how to follow the framework so that the objectives link to each other and back to the overall vision.
To enable those OKRs, teams need coaches to act as sounding boards as well as facilitators of change. No one meets stretch targets by doing the same thing they’ve always done. Constant learning and self-reflection are vital elements of this that coaches enable.
Without our personal driver by our side, we can’t hope to achieve the level of performance we need in this complex world. Just because we knew how to do something yesterday doesn’t mean we’ll excel at our OKRs today. So, help your teams by instilling a coaching culture to keep driving for excellence.
As Peter Drucker himself once told us, “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”