OKRs drive real change and improvement. But they must be implemented properly. The reality is that organisation transformations are not always a slam dunk, it’s natural that there may be some reluctance somewhere.
The type of resistance often depends on which level the idea for OKRs originated from – did it come from the senior leadership, or maybe a mid-level executive?
In this article we look at the potential challenges involved with OKR implementation when it has come from the top level, and how we would overcome them. Pull up a chair because this one is quite lengthy.
While often seen as the perfect foundation for an engagement due to the influence able to be exerted by senior leadership, there are often significant hurdles to overcome when the drive for a move to OKRs comes from the highest levels of an organisation. The foremost challenges that come to mind are boardroom politics, and adoption resistance from lower levels within the business.
Where boardroom politics are concerned it can be easy to find oneself caught between two factions, where the standard response from one side of the boardroom table to anything new introduced by the other side, is entirely contrary. Sometimes this manifests itself early in the process and can be managed accordingly.
However, there’s no doubting that many executives are canny politicians by the time they reach board or senior management level and can time their disruptive strategies with almost perfect precision! So how do we combat these challenges?
The best response in these instances is absolute openness and inclusivity. We ensure that we bring all the senior leadership team along with us at all stages of the process, from initial orientation about the framework to agreement about how a specific implementation will be developed, and how we’ll go about rolling it out and subsequently supporting it.
By not shying away from the difficult discussions up front, and challenging where required, we ensure the process is unequivocally supported all the way through. To do this we make it clear that agreement to move forward at each stage of the buy-in process is also an agreement that there will be no backward steps taken, and no subsequent rehashing or rebuttal of ideas and decisions once consensus has been reached. Execs who subsequently look to cast doubt on the process are clearly breaking this implicit contract, and with it trust.
Clear, consistent messaging and underline the ‘Why?’
Adoption resistance at lower levels of an organisation is a different challenge entirely. It is highly likely, even within the most progressive and inclusive of organisations, that most employees will only be invited to contribute to the implementation of OKRs once the framework has been agreed by senior management, meaning that we will encounter this kind of blocker later in the process.
How does this blocker typically manifest itself? We tend to experience this as a form of passive aggression, whereby a team leader, for example, may claim to buy-in wholeheartedly to the process (and may even convince themselves of that initially), only to then fail to contribute in terms of OKR development, or refuse to apply the necessary rigour or governance in managing the OKRs within their sphere of influence. Left unchecked, these behaviours can erode the confidence in OKRs being built within the organisation, and ultimately lead to the failure of the entire implementation.
Engendering buy-in at the earliest possible stage is one way to mitigate these kinds of issues. To achieve this, it is critical that there is commitment from the senior leadership team to allow time for clear, transparent communication to all levels of the organisation regarding the framework, the process, and the organisation’s expectations from it.
Something we always emphasise from the outset is the importance of a clear and consistent message from the CEO or equivalent high-level sponsor of the implementation, to ensure that the whole organisation understands the drivers behind OKRs - put simply, why OKRs and why now?
Early engagement with the ‘Why?’ leads to far greater personal buy-in and most likely, a much smoother adoption. When staff understand what issues are being addressed, why, and with what particular outcome or outcomes in mind, then they can truly connect with the process.
Less is more
Another way to avoid this kind of resistance issue is to ensure that rollout throughout the business is conducted smoothly and respectfully, conscious that mid and lower-level teams may see this as ‘just another framework or model’, ‘a new way of exerting control’, or ‘piling work upon work for the people at the coal face’.
Promoting the understanding that the process will lead to the organisation’s desired outcomes, and that much of what is required will be ‘instead of’ rather than ‘in addition to’ what teams are already doing day to day, will go a long way to smoothing out any concerns.
Emphasising one of the fundamental cornerstones of OKRs, that of focus, reinforces this further. Team leaders and individuals always like to hear that they are being asked to focus on achieving fewer objectives, rather than always more!
Start small and find your cheerleaders
Conducting a staged rollout may give the wider organisation time to adapt to the idea of a new strategy implementation framework, and ensure that by the time of full implementation there are converts and ambassadors within the wider ranks who are able to spread positivity and enthusiasm, and an existing body of work that demonstrates the benefits of the framework.
There are any number of ways an organisation may choose to implement OKRs, and even more ways the implementation of those OKRs may be challenged, or hit significant blockers. We have highlighted our approach to only a few of those variables, but the key takeaways should be relevant throughout any implementation:
● Be transparent, about the good points and the bad
● Don’t allow doubts to linger at the highest level - resolve them to ensure full
● Ensure buy-in and commitment from the highest levels of the organisation as
early as possible
● If doubts around the efficacy of OKRs in a particular organisation persist,
sometimes it might be better to step away
● Acknowledge that lower levels of the organisation may be challenged by the
idea of ‘another’ strategy delivery framework, and rollout at a speed that
allows for proper adoption and embedding of the process
● Communication is key - people can only buy-in to a framework they fully
Next month we’ll be considering the potential resistance that can crop up when the idea to implement OKRs has come from the mid-level of an organisation. We’ll also have tips on how those issues can be overcome.