Tips for OKRs Coaches

by | Nov 22, 2019

I recently detailed my journey into OKRs coaching and reflected on how much I enjoy being an OKRs coach.  And it’s true, I really like using the OKRs framework as a way to work directly with my clients.  However, as I look back on 2019 and prepare for 2020, I find myself collaborating more and more with other OKRs coaches around the world.  This collaborative coaching approach feels exciting.  I feel like there is unlimited potential.  In 2019, I met with about thirty OKRs coaches to informally share tips and exchange learnings.  In several cases, I collaborated on actual client engagements with coaches as far away as India and Africa.

In addition to working directly with my clients as an OKRs coach, I am making it my 2020 New Year’s Resolution to formalize my work with OKRs coaches around the world.  Now is the time to scale the OKRs coaching model as demand for OKRs coaching continues to grow exponentially.

I see two major reasons for the increased demand in OKRs coaching:

1) The Book! Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters, is a big deal.

2) It Works! OKRs coaching from an OKRs expert outside your company is surprisingly valuable.  As one of my early coachees, Wayne Eckerson, observed, “I forgot how valuable it is to take a step back and re-assess what I’m doing and why.”

I am currently testing out a beta OKRs certification program with a group of close to 20 OKRs coaches around the world.  Sid Ghatak, a certified OKRs coach on my team, is running this program with me as there is no way I can make this happen on my own.  Sid was my first OKRs client back in 2013 and we worked with OKRs together even before then.  When Sid and I announced the OKRs certification program on the site to assess interest level, we immediately confirmed the demand was there.  In fact, the number of inbound requests for information about our OKRs coach certification program more than doubled our total inbound leads!

After just one month of interviewing potential OKRs coaches, we closed our beta program.  Keeping the group small will ensure we get to know each coach and will enable us to optimize learning.  Once we confirm the program is working well, we will explore expanding the OKRs certification program.  In addition, we will introduce the OKRs Coaching Network for those looking to take their OKRs coaching skills to the next level, but do not want to commit to a demanding OKRs certification process.

Unlike most prior posts, this post is intended to include comments from certified coaches like Dikran, Karen and Sid as well as tips from OKRs coaches in our beta program.   Sid and I will kickoff the conversation by sharing our big 3 tips for OKRs coaching.  We invite you to add on or ask questions about these tips using the comments below!


3 Tips for an OKRs Coach, Ben Lamorte

(fine print: I reserve the right to add more tips!)

  1. ALIGN ON AGENDA:  Be 100% clear on the agenda before you show up at an onsite training with your client.  In fact, you may want to align on the “OKR for the Onsite Workshop” before you show up.  I will provide sample OKRs for OKRs workshops in the upcoming OKRs Fieldbook.  If you’d like to be on the list to get a preview copy of this book, please click here to make your request.
  2. START WITH MISSION AND ALIGNMENT CHECK:  When coaching your client through the process of drafting team-level OKRs, it is tempting to jump right into objectives.  However, it surprises me how valuable it is to take the time to develop a team-level mission and performing a quick alignment check before drafting objectives.  For more on this, refer to the 7 Steps for Team-Level OKRs.
  3. STICK TO YOUR DEPLOYMENT PLAN:  One of my recent clients embraced my recommended pre-scoring system whereby each KR is written as an amazing outcome with the .3/commit and .7/target added below the KR.  You can see an example of this key result scoring model here.  However, one team wanted to write their key results as “commit” with the .7/target and 1.0/amazing scoring levels added below the KR.  In other words, they wanted to lead with the committed level of progress rather than leading with the aspirational outcome as defined in our deployment parameter for pre-scoring.   As the OKRs coach, I allowed this one team to do break the mold for a few key results.  Several other teams started breaking this rule as well!  My OKRs project lead gave me clear feedback that giving teams flexibility was not a good move.  By letting some teams write KRs as commit and other teams write KRs as amazing, we created confusion.  The learning was that we needed as standard approach for defining and scoring key results.  Thus, the tip for the OKRs coach is to keep your deployment parameters simple and stick to them.  For example, if you agree that each team needs to set missions as context before the define OKRs, enforce this practice. Your client is looking for you to make the OKRs program consistent even if it is not totally optimal for everyone.  An effective OKRs coach ensures their client completes a cycle or two with strict deployment parameters in place before even exploring possible changes.

Sid Ghatak, Certified Coach3 Tips for an OKRs Coach, Sid Ghatak

Hello OKRs coaches!  I am going to share three tips from a single OKRs coaching engagement.  Most our coaching engagements run about 6-8 months so we can coach our clients through two complete OKRs cycles.  One of my recent clients, a tech company based in Canada, expanded our coaching program to a full year.  So, I took some time to write up a case study with Ben to capture learnings along the way.  As I reflected on the lessons learned over my year of coaching with this one client, I identified three tips to share with OKRs coach colleagues.

  1. Train before OKRs Cycle Coaching:  Ensure that everyone who will be creating OKRs has been through the training.  As with all our coaching programs, we planned to complete training with each team before getting started with the OKRs cycle.  I thought we were on track with our training workshops going well and naturally leading teams to begin drafting their OKRs.  However, when some executives asked their staff to create OKRs without any training, the result was not good.  We had to put in quite a bit of time reworking and editing what they created.  We addressed this issue in the second cycle by explicitly requiring everyone complete training prior to drafting their OKRs.  The process went faster and produced higher-quality OKRs right from the start!
  2. Avoid temptation to “copy and paste” from Top-Level:  Get team leads to act as if they are the CEO of their organization.  Put in some hard work upfront to create OKRs for each team rather than adopting Top-Level objectives or key results.  Ownership was only achieved when each group created their OKRs that related to the company OKRs using their own words.  When the company OKRs were simply translated and carved up, there was no ownership and follow through.  For example, if a top-level Objective is “Improve employee engagement,” that does not mean that each team needs an objective to improve their team’s engagement.  Some teams might already be highly engaged, so this can be treated more as a health metric.  However, some team leads may simply use the top-level objective as their objective.  Similarly, they might try to copy a top-level KR and turn that into their team-level O.  This approach may work in certain cases, but it should not be done by default.
  3. First, get OKRs working, then get an OKRs tool: Ben said these exact words to me a few times.  But I’m a tech guy myself, so I didn’t really follow his advice.  After working dozens of OKRs projects, I advise you avoid using a formal tool when first getting started with OKRs if possible.  In this particular engagement, the dedicated OKRs software program (I’d rather not name it here) had limitations.  There was a substantial amount of time spent getting the software tool to be match our deployment parameters.  In some cases, features had to be ignored or modified so that it could be useful.  This created confusion and actually led the EMEA region to opt out of the OKRs program.  Had we been able to complete an OKRs cycle or two using a Google Sheet or an Excel spreadsheet, we would have made more rapid progress.  With a dedicated tool, the OKRs are nicely displayed and there are cool features such as automated alerts to update KR status each week.  However, we would have been better off defining our OKRs and focusing on what makes OKRs effective before making them look good.  Bottom line advice to OKRs coaches: If your client already has purchased an OKRs software tool, consider taking some time to define deployment of the OKRs program, complete OKRs training and even a full OKRs cycle before moving OKRs into the dedicated software solution.



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