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  • Josh Wise

The Pivot: Using OKRs to Navigate Change and Challenges



In this blog post we'll be continuing with our discussion of OKRs. You can check our first post on OKRs here and our post on nested OKRs here. To quickly it all up, OKRs are how we can set goal or Objectives for our organizations, and then we set up Key Results to measure whether we're making progress towards achieving those goals. John Doerr outlines the formula for OKRs as "I will do _____ by achieving_____."

OKRs become exponentially more powerful when we nest them. We may have one global objective and that spawns key results that become the objectives for teams or departments which in turn creates another level of key results. On and on this can be repeated down to the individual team member.

This blog post is going to be about what happens when we realize something's gone off the rails. Mike Tyson said that everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face. Your OKRs might have been perfect, but then something happens and now you have to react. The nature of OKRs allow our organizations to be flexible and responsive to the challenges in front of us. So here's some tips on how to manage that pivot.

One thing that might cause a team to revisit their OKRs are that the key results that they're using might not be getting them any closer to their objectives. This could happen for any number of reasons. In our last blog post I used the example of a company that had the objective of expanding it's customer base. We followed how this objective cascaded down into various OKRs for departments all the way down to the individual team member. One team was tasked with expanding the social media's reach with the purpose of driving traffic to the company's website. Let's imagine that the social media team is doing this. Analytics are showing that people are seeing and interacting with their content, but it's not translating into a higher click through rate. No one's going on to engage with the website and more importantly to the overall global objective; new customers aren't making purchases. So what gives?

The social media team had the objective of expanding their social media reach. This objective was the key result of the next level up's (the marketing department) objective of increasing brand awareness. In any case the key results we're striving for aren't bringing us any closer to our global goal. In this case it's back to the drawing board. Ideally, through all of this we've been able to gain more insights into what it would actually take to achieve our global objectives. In that case, we would simply adjust our key results. The marketing team could change it's objective from "Expand brand awareness" to "create a series of discount codes for new customers." We try this for a while and see what happens.

Another instance where we might need to adjust our OKRs is when we realize our global objectives need to be adjusted. Six months ago, at the end of 2019, we all had particular goals for ourselves and our company's for the year of 2020. Then 2020 happened. I'm willing to bet that our goals for ourselves and our company's are very different. The tragic outbreak of a global pandemic has radically altered life for all of us. Company wide objectives that were about "growing X%" or "release new product Y" "have now become "keep our heads above water" and "make sure our team is safe and healthy." Sometimes the changes to our objective are due to an external pressure or change. In that case we need to adjust our global objectives and do the nested OKR process again. However because we have the OKR mentality in place our teams are ready for this shift and we're more readily able to make this kind of pivots.

OKRs give our teams the ability to be flexible and responsive to challenges or obstacles that present themselves to our organizations. In addition to this OKRs help our entire organization see how they fit into the process of achieving our overall objectives.


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