You may already be sold on the idea that OKRs can supercharge your organisation with exceptional focus, a bold risk-taking culture, and a sense of purpose that inspires. The challenge now is putting the vision into practice and getting everyone on-board with it.
As with any change, some people will jump on and relish it. But for others, it can be tricky for them to get the hang of it in the beginning, and there may be resistance. In short, implementing OKRs can be daunting.
Last month we focused on some of the challenges that can happen when the senior leadership team is driving the changes. This time we’re looking at the resistance that can crop up when the initial push has come from someone in the mid or lower levels of an organisation.
The greatest threat in this situation is genuine buy-in from the senior leadership team. Our involvement often takes two different forms in this scenario, either providing support for the upward selling process, or where an implementation has begun but is veering dangerously off track (without the necessary senior level sponsor), providing remediation coaching.
Getting professional help
Upward selling can be a reasonably simple undertaking in businesses where the OKR process has not yet begun. We are often asked to provide subject matter expertise in support of the OKR proposer and this will most likely take the form of a workshop of varied length. It will take the senior leadership team through the background of the framework, its strengths, what they look like in practice, and the role of the leadership team in the success or otherwise of any rollout.
It is also important not to shy away from communicating the likely implementation challenges and weaknesses of the framework. Where the senior leadership team has perhaps already demonstrated an openness to use OKRs, we’ll also tend to go a little deeper during the workshop, starting to investigate the challenges within the business that OKRs may help to resolve, and show how their specific implementation may look in a little more detail.
What is clear however is that ‘selling OKRs’ can only go so far - if a leadership team isn’t convinced about the merits or the timing then there comes a point where continuing to sell the framework becomes counterproductive. The last thing we are looking to achieve is convincing an uncertain leadership to push ahead with implementation.
The dog has to wag the tail
We also see businesses that have gone ahead with OKR adoption without senior leadership commitment, perhaps because of rolling out productivity or performance management solutions that contain a strong OKRs element or bias.
These can be very challenging scenarios to unpick since they resemble ‘the tail wagging the dog’ - the decision did not emanate from the senior leadership team and therefore there is not a senior OKR sponsor, a critical requirement of successful implementations.
This is where we revert to a more ‘coaching’ role, and we have a number of approaches to consider depending upon the exact nature of the issues at hand. Reverting to upward selling might be an option, effectively asking the senior leadership team to get on board in lieu of the implementation having taken place.
This often requires hitting the pause button on the use of OKRs until there is full buy-in, and being prepared to roll back some of what may already have been put in place. However, better to take the time to get it right, than muddle on with a dysfunctional implementation.
The alternative may be to ring-fence the implementation and work with a specific team, or even a jurisdiction in the case of a larger organisation. This allows a fine-tuning of the process, providing focus, and developing a proof of concept for the leadership team that OKRs can work and will benefit the whole organisation.
Fixing what is broken and then ‘relaunching’ this at a point down the road, as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the framework, can be a very powerful tool for selling it throughout the rest of the organisation.
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