Improving OKR Coaching with the Left-Hand Column Reflection
OKRs coaches are constantly looking for tips to improve their coaching skills. Perhaps the simplest way to get better at coaching OKRs is simply to coach OKRs. Taking time to write up and critically reflect on an actual excerpt from one of your coaching sessions is one of the best ways to learn from your experience. The Left-Hand-Column exercise is a simple reflection tool that every coach on the OKRs.com team embraces.
While I’ve shared several examples from my coaching practice, I am committing to sharing examples from other coaches around the world. In this blog post, I am pleased to share a recent example provided by Catherine Chen, the first OKRs coach to join our team who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. In this example, you will see Catherine’s English translation taken directly from an actual coaching session in the right hand column and her reflection in the left hand column.
Context for Catherine’s Coaching Excerpt
The CEO of a digital marketing company based in Kuala Lumpur set a goal to ensure employees get a work-life balance. The CEO was new to OKRs. He read a bit about OKRs prior to our coaching session.
In total, he set two objectives for the company in the first quarter of 2021. Our coaching session ran 90 minutes. During the session, his objective evolved from “Achieve employees work-life balance” to “Establish an Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to ensure any project manager can take over the bank’s project from Joey.”
The excerpt below is taken directly from our coaching session. I use the Left-Hand-Column (LHC) reflection, which I learned from Ben Lamorte while previewing an early draft of his upcoming field book. I found the LHC to be a valuable tool to reflect on how OKRs coaching can lead to breakthroughs.
Here is the LHC/RHC transcript that features what was said in the RHC and what I was thinking but did not say in the LHC.
Left-hand column (my thinking)
Right-hand column (said)
|I am asking the fundamental question of the objective now.||
CEO/John: My objective is to achieve work-life balance for our staff in Q1 2021
OKRs coach/Catherine: Why is that important in Q1 2021?
John: Due to the heavy workload and constant last-minute changes from our third party and our client, the bank, our project manager Joey has no time to take annual leave.
|Is this a work-life balance problem to Joey only, or is it a problem related to other project managers? Let me find out more.||John (continued): Unlike all previous projects we did before, this project is complicated and involves a third party. So it was tough for other project managers to take over. Besides, Joey is based in Chile, which is 11 hours behind Malaysia. When it comes to hand-over meetings, both Malaysian project managers and Joey need to sacrifice their own time.|
|I am trying to ask questions to figure out what exactly is the CEO’s concern.||
Catherine: Does your company already have an SOP on how project managers take over each other’s jobs?
John: We have an SOP for regular projects, which records A to Z on how to handle a project and project take over matters. If any employees take emergency leave, other project managers can quickly take over this project.
But this year, we have worked with a third party on a bank project. Currently, Joey is the only person who is handling this project. Once Joey was sick, and other project managers tried to take over the project, but they failed.
It sounds like the CEO is more concerned about the risks of how Joey’s job cannot be taken over by other team members, not about employees’ work-life balance. However, I cannot make an assumption now, so I need to check with him further.
The CEO sounds very firm about his planning of establishing an SOP. His focus shifts from employees’ work-life balance to job take over to ensure that future bank projects can run without disruption if Joey takes leave.
Catherine: It sounds like you are very concerned about the problem that no one can take over Joey’s project now. Why is that?
John: Yes. Joey’s client is a bank, a critical client that we have always been dreaming of. This client has already boosted our revenue this year, and we are on track to get more similar projects from its branches in 2021.
We need to establish an SOP to ensure every project manager can take over the bank’s project in case of Joey’s emergency leave or unforeseen circumstances.
|I am not surprised to hear the CEO shift his focus in this objective. That’s why I am here to help. Now the aim is evolved from work-life balance to SOP to ensure job take over.||
Catherine: Understood. How will we know that any other project manager can quickly take over Joey’s job when the project is still going next year?
John: If this issue is resolved, this VIP client’s project will not be disrupted when Joey is not available. Besides, Joey can have more time to expand the Chile market, and our project with the bank will be completed successfully.
Narrator: John smiled, and I felt he is happy with what he got so far.
|We are very close to the “real” objective John wants to achieve in the 1st quarter of 2021. I am excited.||
Catherine: So, the ultimate purpose of this SOP is to ensure that every other project manager can take over Joey’s job in this bank’s project, right?
|Finally, we are close to the real objective now.||
Catherine: So can we reframe your objective to:
John: Yes. Correct. Thanks.
Fabulous! John seems to be happy with the revised objective.
Finally, this is the OKR draft from the coaching session with CEO John:
Objective for Q1, 2021: Establish a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to ensure other project managers can take over bank projects from Joey.
Why now: Our critical banking client has already boosted our revenue this year. They are going to give us more similar projects in 2021 from other branches. There is currently only one project manager, Joey, who knows the A to Z for this critical project. To ensure other future project managers can quickly take over this project if and when Joey is not available, an SOP must be in place. SOP’s content includes A to Z of the bank project details, with words and pictures, which shall be saved in google drive.
Draft Key Result: (Champion: John): Five project managers paraphrase their understanding of the bank project’s SOP and Joey is 100% confident that at least three can fill in. (1.0)
0.7: Three project managers paraphrase their understanding of the SOP of the bank project.
0.3: Joey creates a user-friendly SOP of the bank project by the end of 31 March 2020.
The CEO said he likes how this OKR focuses on the desired outcome. Previously, whenever other team members tried to take over the bank project, they felt that the work was daunting; they did not feel clear about where to begin. With this standard operating procedure objective, they are aligned on where to focus to make measurable progress. The CEO went on to refine this OKR and is now using OKRs as a system for improving communication across teams.
OKR Coaching Takeaway
- Ask clarification questions to help your client identify the “real” objective to reflect their goals. In this case, the objective evolved from work-life balance to a standard operating procedure when I stated, “It sounds like you are very concerned about the problem that no one can take over Joey’s project now. Why is that?”
- Continue to ask detailed questions to help your client discover why the objective is so important right now? In this case, to get the client to focus on “Why,” I asked, “What benefits will you see if other project managers can easily take over Joey’s job when the project is still going on next year?”
- If you have not used LHC to help improve an OKR with your client, I recommend doing it now! The exercise can accelerate your coaching skills.
For more context on the Left-Hand Column (LHC) reflection exercise and how to become a more effective OKRs coach, click below to pre-order The OKRs Field Book which is set to be released in early 2022.