Jun 2, 2016

Solving Startup Pains with OKRs

Growing pains are an inevitable part of business and life. With startups, these pains signal not only growth but transformation, which should both thrill and terrify you. The good news? These pains are one of the best indicators of a successful business model, but they also present multiple opportunities to fail.

Like any startup, Conveyor experiences flurries of excitement and terror. In the face of chaos, we look for ways to succeed. One way to deal with growing pains is to develop an objective and key results (OKR) system.

OKRs are more than a communications and goal methodology — they are a mindset. They are a measurable, tangible, quantifiable, transparent, result-oriented framework that connects your management goals, to your team’s goals, to the organization’s goals.

In essence, OKRs establish a beat for the whole organization to follow. Sounds simple, right? It is. But why is it important?

As your team grows, it’s continuously harder to keep everyone in rhythm. When you go from a team of two, to six, to 12, to 100 — that beat that everyone walks to becomes more and more precious.

Establishing OKRs allow everyone on your team to have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities—their step within the beat—and provides a clear means to measure their success and contribution to the overarching goal of the organization.

Ready to implement? Here’s what you need to do:
  1. Start with a goal. Go big. This goal should be the objective of the organization and it should focus on what the company is trying to accomplish. It should be ambitious and push your limits, yet realistic.
  2. Set a timeline. It can be a month or a quarter. Give yourself enough time to accomplish the objective, but not so much that your objectives completely shift in the process.
  3. Break it down. Once you have your main objective and the timeline to accomplish it, get granular. What does the goal mean to different teams in the organization?
  4. Break it down again. This time take it to the individual level. What is the objective for each member of your team? Make sure all the objectives map back to the big, main goal.
  5. Reverse the process. Work from the bottom up. Define the key results at the individual level. Make sure that each desired result is clear, quantifiable and shows the individual how to accomplish it.
  6. Define the team-level results. Once you have the key results for every member of your team, define the key results of the team as a unit.
  7. Define the ‘whole company’ results. What are the measurable, tangible results your organization must accomplish to get to the main objective.
  8. Take a step back. Look at the big picture. Ask yourself: Does it make sense? Does it flow? Can you see how every person is contributing to get the organization to where it wants to go? Does the objective inspire fear or comfort? Can you really do it? These are great questions to test the validity of your OKRs. If they pass the test, then unleash your team on them. See how they feel and if they agree with you, as the goal is to increase team unity around a centralized objective. Involving your team in the development of the OKRs will make the implementation process easier and the objectives more valuable.
  9. Define the ruler. Measurability is one of the most important components of this framework. You must define how you will grade your progress and how often you will do it. That ruler can be from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 10. The numbers themselves don’t matter. What matters is that you keep yourself and the whole team accountable with the same ruler.
  10. Make it public. Make sure every member of your team knows and understands the framework, their personal goals, their team goals and the overarching objective, as well as what they need to do to accomplish them. Clarify that OKRs are not the same thing as employee evaluations, although this framework can also be leveraged to support professional growth.
  11. Grade and adjust. Success will not be defined by achieving your objective. If you’ve merely achieved your goal, you failed step one of this process. The purpose of the objective is to push your limits and the organization’s limits. As we know that no one is perfect, there’s no reason you should be getting a 10/10. But that’s the beauty of the framework. Use your ruler to measure how well you, your team and the organization performed. Then evaluate, adjust and set new objectives.

Success is defined by progress, so take the first step.

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