Leveraging OKRs in a Crisis

Now that we’re several months into the Covid-19 crisis, I will share some reflections on how to leverage OKRs in a crisis. This post is based on client experiences as well as tips from Omid Akhavan, an OKRs coach who recently joined the OKRs.com team.

First of all, there is no one right way to leverage OKRs right now that makes sense for all organizations. Some of our clients continue with OKRs as if there is no crisis. Others put their entire OKRs program on hold and are transitioning into survival mode. When you’re in survival model, health metrics tend to rise up and take center stage.

Code Red!

One of our clients had a sales team with an excellent track record of success prior to the crisis. In fact, they defined “average revenue per sales rep” would be best monitored as a health metric to maintain rather than a key result to focus on improving. In mid-March, the VP Sales called “Code Red!” All of a sudden, the OKRs that were focused on expanding the product mix and adding more customers in certain verticals took a back seat. The VP shifted the focus away from the OKRs and asked the Sales Team to shift their focus to maintaining a health metric. In fact, even maintaining a health metric can be a stretch during a crisis. In the midst of a crisis, shifting focus from an OKR to a health metric may be a detail.

OKRs on Hold

Some of our clients who set OKRs for the first time in Q1 2020 have decided to put the OKRs program on hold entirely. These are organizations that are focused on adjusting to working from home, dealing with hiring freezes, salary reductions, and layoffs. And when you need to get into survival mode, it may be best simply to put your OKRs on hold. However, these same organizations are reporting that the questions we ask as OKRs coaches are more important than ever. And the questions may need to be adjusted a bit.

Here is an example:

  • Default OKRs question: “What is the most important objective to improve in the near term?”
  • Crisis mode version of this question: “What is the most important area to focus on maintaining during the crisis?

Remember that OKRs is not a budgeting exercise. You should be empowered to throw them out and start over when necessary adjust to massive changes in the market. And this crisis may just be the right time to reset your OKRs and get focused.

Here is what I heard from a colleague just last week:

“The OKRs framework gives us a much-needed common language that can get everyone on the same page and moving in a positive direction. While it’s easy to fall into a negative spiral and complain about all the things we can’t achieve, OKRs shift our focus to the things we can achieve. We took some time to reset our commitment and aspirational targets given our new reality. It was actually like business therapy. Reflecting and modifying our OKRs in the midst of a crisis made us feel like we were taking action rather than just being victims. Adjusting OKRs while in crisis mode is helping us manage expectations as we deal with the unexpected.”

Omid’s Observations

Omid Akhavan, is finding certain elements of the OKRs framework are helping his clients navigate the crisis. Here are Omid’s tips for leveraging OKRs during highly uncertain times:

  • Revise strategies, goals and OKRs more frequently (For example, the company may shift from an annual OKRs cycle to quarterly; Teams might even shift from quarterly to monthly)
  • Consider adjusting expectations. What you set as a committed level of progress may now become the aspirational level.
  • Increase the frequency of check-ins. Rather than a bi-weekly or weekly team check-in, some of our clients are moving to short daily (remote) stand ups.
  • Ensure OKRs are properly communicated and digitally shared with all relevant parties through your OKRs Tracker tool
  • Reduce the number of OKRs to increase focus. Ensure everyone is aligned with current critical priorities and follow the OKRs maxim: “LESS IS MORE” which seems especially important during a crisis.
  • Consider putting functional team OKRs on hold and engaging staff through a limited set of cross-functional (shared) OKRs, battling the silo effects especially when folks work remotely

Is your approach to goal setting on hold or more necessary than ever before? Please let us know how the Coronavirus crisis is impacting your approach to OKRs.

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