OKRs Workshop and Fieldbook Preview

This blog focuses on an OKRs Workshop. It is the first in a series of posts designed for you, the OKRs coach. This series will serve as a preview for the upcoming OKRs Coaching Fieldbook slated for release in 2019.

Abstract

While it’s great to have an agenda before an OKRs coaching workshop with pre-defined Objectives to set the stage for developing Key Results, it’s even more important that you create an environment that enables your client organization to use the OKRs framework to get into the right conversation.  An OKRs coach must be flexible and willing to dive deep into a critical focus area.  Jeff Walker, my OKRs mentor, told me that he knew how to identify a problem and then keep pushing and pushing until it was solved. Jeff explained that answers are easy to get once you clearly understood the problem*.

The problem that you have as an OKRs coach is that most people, your clients included, will not take the time to fully define and understand the problem they are trying to solve. Your job as an OKRs coach is quite a bit easier when your client insists on slowing down and taking the time to clearly define and align on the most important problem they are trying to solve.  This blog posts explores how we pivoted the agenda for one OKRs workshop to focus on a single Objective; the post also celebrates the success one of my clients experienced during their OKRs workshop.

Context

I spent the last two days leading an OKRs Workshop at a farm in Cuba, Missouri.  As with all my onsite OKRs workshops, we went in with a clear agenda for the day.  First, each attendee introduced themselves briefly and shared why they felt OKRs were important to their organization along with any items they wanted to cover during the workshop.  I introduced myself and shared stories from my work with similar organizations and lessons learned.  Next, we went into my standard interactive OKRs 101: why OKRs, history of OKRs, definitions, scoring, benefits, examples, and characteristics of effective OKRs. The plan was to develop Key Results for THREE company-level Objectives over the balance of day 1 and the morning of day 2. My best clients tend to change the plan during the workshop**.  And this client, McBride Homes, is clearly one of the best.

Before the OKRs Workshop

We quickly aligned on twelve deployment parameters. Here are the four most relevant to this blog post.

  1. Scoring: All Key Results will be written as aspirational; pre-scoring will be used to align on a commitment and target level for each Key Result.
  2. Level: OKRs will first be set at the company-level only; team-level OKRs will be introduced later in 2019 once we’ve had success with company-level OKRs
  3. Cadence: Company-level Objectives will be set for the full year; Key Results may be set for the upcoming Quarter or for the full year. Teams will ultimately set OKRs each Quarter and may also set annual as an option.
  4. Number of OKRs: McBride will set 3-4 Company-Level Objectives. CEO and CFO articulated four candidates for company-level objectives that focused on 1) People, 2) Customer, 3) Growth, and 4) Financial. Teams will later define just 1-2 Objectives. Each Objective will have 2-4 Key Results.

OKRs Workshop Agenda

  1. CEO opening: Strategic Context; Financial update by CFO (~1 Hour)
  2. Intros / OKRs 101 / How we’ll use OKRs (~ 2 Hours)
  3. Group Exercise: Define Key Results for Objective 1: People
  4. Breakout Exercise: Each group develops Key Results for Objective 2: Customer
  5. Wrap Up: Key Takeaways; open questions
  6. Day 2: Breakout Exercise to draft Key Results for Objective 3: Growth

Actual OKRs Workshop Flow

Let’s look at what occurred on day one at the workshop.

  1. CEO Opening: The CEO and CFO opened with an excellent summary of the strategy, market trends, and latest financials.

Coaching Takeaway: I highly recommend beginning an OKRs Workshop with such a presentation by leadership to set the stage for OKRs.

  1. Intros / OKRs 101: Fifteen or so business leaders briefly introduced themselves and I did my OKRs intro lecture.

Coaching Takeaway: Always take the time to go around the room and have each attendee give their two cents as you, as an OKRs coach, never know what you’ll learn and this data is invaluable to enable you to tune the OKRs workshop to meet the client where they are. This client was unusual in that they did not have silo effects per se. Everyone quickly understood and embraced the idea to align on cross-functional, company-level OKRs first and to explore team-level OKRs later. After discussing squad models and merging dependent teams, we agreed we would take our time and even explore piloting teams to figure out what a “team” should be for the purposes of OKRs.

  1. Group Exercise: Define Key Results for first Objective. We used the distributed learning approach that I first learned from Dennis Matthies at Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning***. Each attendee took 3 minutes to draft Key Results, 5 minutes to discuss in groups of 2-3 and align on their top 2-3 Key Results to share with the group, and then each group presented their Key Results for discussion.

Draft Key Results from Workshop:

Key Results:

  1. Increase %Sales Manager exceeding their target from X to Y
  2. Add X new Sales Managers in Q4 with start date on or before Jan 1, 2019
  3. Get a baseline on Sales Manager Engagement Score
  4. Increase Sales Manager Retention (excluding Sales Managers lost due to poor performance) and document reasons why Sales Managers leave

Action Plan: This is an optional section below each OKR where my clients like to list the key actions they will take to impact their OKR.

  1. Hire VP Sales
  2. Train Sales Team
  3. Define “A-Player”

Analysis: The discussion was quite lively right away. I normally like to let each team articulate their Key Result candidates before going deeper and refining Key Results, but the CEO immediately pointed out that while it’s critical to hit targets, that’s not enough to be an “A-Player.”  A member of the advisory board quickly asked, “who do we have on the sales team now that is an A-player?” And the CEO explained,

“Amy is definitely not an A-Player; just because you get one big month where you blow out your target does not make you an A-Player. You need consistency, you need a good rating from your customers. Also, you need to work well with internal teams within our company.”

The “Aha Moment” that Changed the Agenda

The conversation quickly led to the insight that we did not have a definition of what it meant to be an “A-Player” but that having such a definition was critical to our success going forward.  The sentiment in the room was that many of our existing sales managers were not operating at an A-level, but how can we expect them to operate at an A-level if we don’t even have a piece of paper that spells out what it means to be an A-player? In fact, we concluded that until we had a definition of an “A player,” the whole OKRs process was on hold.

Clarifying the need for a definition of what we mean by an “A-player” was our first “Aha moment” that we experienced as a team through the OKRs approach. Given we only had an hour or so left in our workshop, we had to make the decision whether to move onto the next Objective or keep working on this first Objective. The CEO was decisive. He confirmed with the group that we’d better focus on getting this first Objective right before moving on to the next Objective or even the next Key Result, we decided to focus on this one item before plowing forward.

Coaching Takeaway: If your client is doing the talking, forget about your agenda and let them drive the discussion. In this case, the CEO took charge and got everyone thinking about what it means to be an “A-Player.”  While an OKRs coach cannot plan an “aha moment” into the workshop agenda, getting into such a valuable conversation is a great sign that the OKRs workshop is going well. After all, OKRs is a critical thinking framework that systematically gets the team to define the problem we’re trying to solve.

As an OKRs coach, part of me felt that we didn’t make much progress; after all, we planned to cover two Objectives on day one and be in good shape to work on Objective #3 on day two. Looking back at the SIX items on the planned agenda, we only covered the first three!  Moreover, on day one, we didn’t even finish drafting Key Results for the first Objective! However, the CEO stated, “This corporate retreat is one of the best in our company’s history!”  We had the right conversation. We focused on what it means to be an A-player. Thanks to this CEO, I slept well that night!

OKRs Workshop Day 2

As you might have guessed, we began day two by collaboratively defining the characteristics of an “A-Player” via brainstorm and then ranking the top criteria to arrive at a definition. We ended up with the following:

  • Hit overall sales target on a rolling 6-month average
  • Willingness to refer based on customer surveys at 90%+ as measured over last 3 months, compared to our historical average of 87%
  • Trained on internal systems as measured by our internal systems team
  • Positive score on internal 360 review to reflect that you have a good attitude when interacting with our internal staff
  • Proactiveness, and sales discipline as measured creating 3 or more leads and adding them to SalesForce.com each month

The Objective morphed from a broad, annual Objective for 2019: “People: Grow and retain a world-class staff with a focus on Sales” to a more focused Objective for Q4 2018: “Position McBride as a Sales Machine as we enter 2019”

Objective: Position our company to be a Sales Machine as we enter 2019

Key Results

  1. Increase %Sales Manager exceeding target from X in Q3 to Y in Q4
  2. Add X new Sales Managers in Q4 with start date on or before Jan 1, 2019
  3. Classify 3 test Sales Managers as A, B, or C players based on our new definitions of Sales Manager Performance Levels. (Expectation: All Sales Managers employed 4+ months classified by end of Q1 based on criteria defined in Q4)

Coaching Takeaway: As the Key Results begin to emerge, revisit the Objective. In this case, the Key Results led us to transform the Objective from a broad concept around People, to a more narrow focus around becoming a “Sales Machine.” Given Key Results often inform and help refine the Objective, I recommend starting with the essence of your Objective and diving right into Key Results. Often, it’s the process of drafting Key Results that enables teams to clearly understand an Objective.

OKRs Workshop Conclusion

This deep dive into an OKRs workshop illustrates the importance of being flexible as an OKRs coach.  It’s great to have an agenda before the workshop replete with Objectives to set the stage for developing Key Results, but it’s even more important to create an environment that enables your client organization to have the right discussion. An OKRs Coach should illustrate the steps for creating OKRs, but not attempt to rush through them. While it may be tempting to move to the next Objective, be sure to check in with your client before moving on.

With OKRs, “less is more.” And in this workshop, dedicating the group to define Key Results for just one Company-Level Objective was the right path. An OKRs Coach helps their client assess how many OKRs to set and whether to begin with OKRs at the Company-Level only or to rollout to teams right from the start as noted in my 2×2 Matric for getting started with OKRs. the level at which to start OKRs As the senior most member in the room, this CEO was right up there with Jeff Walker in terms of problem-solving skills. He did a fantastic job of taking the time to define and understand the problem before trying to solve it. I will track the business impact my client experiences as they focus on a single OKR at the company level prior to introducing more OKRs at various levels in the organization.

Footnotes

  • *For more on Jeff, please click here.
  • **Given your client may change the agenda on you, I highly recommend you as an OKRs coach be flexible. In this case, we decided to go deeper into a single OKR rather than draft multiple OKRs.
  • ***Christina Wodtke developed an excellent distributed learning model for OKRs Workshops. For more, please see her OKRs book, Radical Focus.

If you have questions about how to run an OKRs workshop, please list them here. Let’s get a discussion going!

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