Our theses on the impact of the OKR framework and why you should start with it right now!

Organizations can increasingly only drive “on sight” during this time. Consequently, high agility is required! Leadership and control in the crisis must be flexible and simple! This is where the employees are particularly challenged, as they too are massively affected by the changed requirements. Therefore, it is even more important to involve the employees as early as possible in the strategy development and implementation.

# 1: Focus and orientation for employees and teams

Especially now, in times of total uncertainty, employees need above all transparency and orientation: Where are we currently? What is in store for us and what do we have to prepare for? What does this mean for our corporate strategy – what is still valid, what do we have to rethink? So, what are the priorities for the coming months? Especially when things get tight, it is even more important to make the right decisions about how to use scarce resources.

The OKR approach provides valuable support in the form of a coherent logic and easily manageable methods and tools.

OKR approach: OKR-Cycle (OKR-Reviews, Retrospectives, OKR plannigs, OKR  weekly) + Strategic goals / directions / MOALS (Mid-term Goals)

Fig: OKR as a method for ongoing strategic corporate management

The aim is to set up and roll out an iterative control cycle:

  • Strategy meetings: Definition of medium-term strategic goals and strategic directions in the context of strategy development and evaluation
  • Year’s priorities: “MOALS” – “mid-term goals” derived from the strategic goals and directions, i.e. annual priorities for strategy implementation
  • During the year, the ongoing strategy implementation process is carried out according to OKR logic:
    • Objectives as qualitative targets to be achieved in the next 3 – 4 months
    • Key Results as quantitative results or measures (bundles) for achieving the objectives
    • Establishment of closely timed control cycles: weekly or fortnightly for ongoing coordination (who does what? What are the next steps?) and quarterly to review the achievement of objectives and redefine the objectives and key results

Clear agreements and alignment of goals and the desired key results between teams and vertically across divisions and teams ensure that no idle time or waste of resources occurs. OKR makes the contributions of individual teams and employees more visible, which in turn strengthens the sense of purpose in day-to-day business and intrinsic motivation.

# 2: Short iteration – planning, questioning and re-planning

The decisive factor for implementation is not perfect long-term plans, but rather the ability to react quickly to changing conditions and to implement them just as quickly. The weekly or fortnightly (short) “(Bi-)Weeklys” enable the teams to exchange information on a regular basis and to identify and react to problems at an early stage. In the best case, this short-term and iterative format has already proven its worth in “quick decision-making” and revises, deletes and replaces OKR sets.

In times of crisis it is quite permissible to shorten the 3-month cycle of an OKR sprint (lead time from OKR planning to OKR review) to 2 or 1 month. It depends to a certain extent on the spectrum of possible alternatives that are available as options for action. If, depending on the development of the situation, a company has the opportunity to react sensibly with more than 10 possible measures in the current situation, then a short cycle is recommended because knowledge and decisions can be incorporated more quickly.

If, however, the spectrum of countermeasures remains relatively limited, a shorter cycle does not really bring advantages and one tends to stick to the 3-month standard.

# 3: OKR as a permanent control and learning process

Learning in OKR logic means, on the one hand, evaluating and responding to the achievement of objectives and key results. Here, W-questions such as “why did we (not) achieve the goal?”, “why did we achieve the goal so well/less well?”, “what can we improve in the next cycle?” have to be answered. This is done in “OKR-Review” format.

On the other hand, the OKR Retrospective is exclusively dedicated to the effectiveness of team cooperation. After each cycle, the team meets for another 1.5 – 2 hours after the review to evaluate the teamwork and make agreements on future cooperation.

# Conclusion: Start with OKRs, especially in a crisis!

Organizations are currently forced by the crisis to ask themselves “What exactly do I want to achieve and what is really important to me for the next few weeks?

Therefore, the introduction of at least the central components of the OKR methodology in the top management level can be very helpful as a first step! It is not yet absolutely necessary to have full control over all artifacts of the framework right from the start.

The roll-out of the methodology to the entire company should then be extended or postponed step by step over several cycles.

But what has already been proven during the Corona crisis is that it is also virtually possible to develop and implement strategies and hold OKR workshops in virtual formats!