The “Human” Aspect of OKRs


Via Startup Stock Photos

Last week, I found myself working with HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency), another new client who is looking at the benefits of – and ways to achieve – transformed performance management via OKRs.

This wasn’t an easy sell though: there were over 30 in the room and they had all been asked to give up half their day to attend.  All in all, it was quite the time investment for the business.

We opened with a few words from the Transformation Director, Karen Foster, who had been the one to invite me in to work with HESA.  Karen said that the business encountered OKRs when working with a technology innovation focussed government department.  Since then, there had been a curiosity to see what OKRs could do for them.  Her investigations had lead her to me – via LinkedIn – where she learnt about the work There be Giants is doing with growing tech companies in and around Manchester.

On our agenda was:

  • Their origin
  • The essential organisational ingredients needed to make them work
  • How to structure a great OKR
  • Lessons from the early adopters
  • How to make a start with OKRs

I was amazed where the 3 hours went!

It’s fair to say some were more bought into the change than others, but the one thing that all 30 people agreed on was a desire to create a line of sight between the work of the team and the business’ objectives.

As the morning progressed, they started to appreciate that OKRs represent much more than just a new acronym, or management fad as some admitted they initially suspected.  The real light-bulb moment came when one of the attendees said:

“There’s a real human element to OKRs isn’t there?”

Yes!  Sure, OKRs need a strategy, systemisation and alignment to help them work, but the secret sauce is in the frequent conversations they enable.  Regular check-ins for teams and individuals increase the opportunity for coaching, feedback and collaboration.

Why is this important?

Besides increasing innovation and efficiency by promoting collaboration within and between teams, there is much telling us that people – particularly the younger (sub 30) members in the workplace – are not only motivated and engaged when they feel developed, but that they also use potential development as a key criterion when deciding if to accept a job offer (PWC “Millennials at work” 2015).

So, if you are wanting to attract top talent, perhaps look inwards as well as the message you project outwards.  My client gets this.  With some commenting “I’m committed to OKRs as I can see the direct benefit to my own development,” they see them as a way to attract the right people and then allowing and enabling them to deliver.  A genuine win-win for both the business and its people.

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