Building solidly on a foundation in the middle. Image via Midjourney.
Strategy and Outcomes provide our missing middle
When we set them skillfully, to track our ability to influence mission-critical client Outcomes via effective strategic choices, OKRs open the door to the crucial insights and learning at the core of a continuously improving organization.
But learning can’t happen without the necessary safety.
Making it safe
For OKRs to truly provide their benefits, they rely on a foundation of aspirational goal-setting.
If we never set goals beyond what know we can currently achieve, we’ll never test our boundaries and be forced to stretch and innovate.
In fact, the whole point about OKRs is trying different things in pursuit of a moonshot goal just beyond our reach, while making it safe to fail.
Every quarter, we take advantage of the built-in mechanism of reflection and retrospection before we re-set our goals to aim just a little higher, and do just a little better the following quarter.
Opening the door to continuous learning & growth
The real goals of OKRs are the conversations they make possible.
When facilitated well, these conversations form the foundation of the new learnings and actions we take as a result of the shared insights we uncover. This continuous process of shared learning over the long term is always far more valuable than achieving some arbitrary number from a random Key Result check-in could possibly be in the short-term.
There’s no such thing as “failure” in this model.
And how you adjust course and take action on what you learn.
Goal, Process, and System
If we set a Key Result once and achieve it, we may have achieved a goal, but we’ve learned nothing.
If we create a process and a system of continuous goal-setting and learning based on check-ins and reflection, we’ll be able to continuously improve our ability to achieve goals consistently.
Changing the conversation
So in order to shift the binary conversation from
“Deliver this feature” — DONE/NOT DONE
“Get clients to start taking this set of actions, which will indicate success for them and for us”–We fell short, but learned X and Y that we can use to improve our strategy for the coming quarter.
We need to consciously shift to and stay in more of a Creative, Client-Centric, and Product Management approach to create a hypothesis, and design the Strategy and Outcomes that will influence the client behavior change that we recognize is outside of our control.
The right time to plan
Once we’ve understood what behaviors we’re trying to have our clients accomplish in that middle layer, we can then move to more of an Analytical, Internally-Focused and Project Management focus so we can plan the right actions and Outputs in the bottom layer to make those Outcomes become a reality.
But our goal isn’t to start, as we’ve been trained to do, by jumping right into “Solutioning,” listing out “deliverables” in the bottom Outputs layer.
Target the Middle
So until we can make that shift, and consistently start by setting our Strategy and OKRs in the “missing” middle Outcomes layer, we’ll be:
- Stuck in a binary definition of failure
- There will be no safety
- And learning is impossible, because there will always be more to do than our limited time and money will ever allow us to do.