How We Pivoted From SMART To OKR- Part 1

The OKR framework needs no introduction in the realm of performance management systems (PMS) within organizations. Companies big and small are already obsessed with this idea of setting ambitious goals, enticed with the newness it brings to the way performances are evaluated. It’s spot on with having measurable results that can be objectively quantified. And then the concept of associating key results with initiatives is what all of us like to jump into bottom-up the moment we have an objective insight.

While the concept is exciting enough to pivot from the legacy PMS, the execution is equally challenging. At PromptCloud and JobsPikr, we introduced OKRs last year when we were trying to revamp the way performance gets measured, both individually as well as across teams. We were also looking at maturing our approach to aligning company objectives with individual objectives, to enhance visibility into our organizational goals. And later to fairly compensate our people for their achievements of those goals. None of these were possible via our older system where we had SMART goals assigned per individual because:

  1. There were too many of them for the fear of missing out on recording responsibilities 
  2. These measured on a 1-5 scale, thus further adding to subjectivity 
  3. It was extremely difficult to align these to company goals. There were instances where company performance was poor and yet individual ratings demanded a significant hike.

The OKR Framework:

I bumped into this concept while looking at some PMS frameworks that help onboard the entire organization on the same boat and found useful links across the internet. Specifically, the ones by Perdoo which is an OKR tool itself. It also had an excel template to use that got us hooked. We started with something like the below.

We kept all the OKRs public across teams for complete visibility, and to have an open channel for any team to cross-question another team. There were also set thresholds for the minimum desired outcome on the OKRs for a good appraisal cycle. 

When it was time to go through appraisals, we were still struggling to get teams to reflect their real progress. There were also cases when teams that were relatively more agile, completely deflected from their original plans. The first cycle of appraisals post-OKR adoption was hence not as linear as we thought it would be.

The Following Reasons Surfaced In Retrospection:

  1. As evident, these OKRs were fairly top-down thus reducing commitment from the individual teams.
  2. The cadences of company and team OKRs didn’t match thus yet not fully aligned.
  3. Lastly, like with any other change, it wasn’t easy for everyone to adopt this idea. Most function heads were pushed to make OKRs as the source of truth for their plans. 

It was clear that we needed a top-down as well as a bottom-up approach for a thoroughly engaged taskforce. We also started defining company OKRs more frequently to match the rhythm of the teams. Below was what it looked like for us starting 2nd cycle of OKRs, which took twice as long to freeze.

The 2nd cycle was seemingly better. People were more used to the idea and knew this was the one thing that aligned with the company performance, team dynamics, and individual performances. OKR is a frequently used term during internal conversations now. This cycle of OKRs also had very steep targets for all teams. We were culturally on track with the plan and were confident of meeting our numbers while COVID was approaching. And then it arrived throwing us all in survival mode. How we survived the COVID backlash and how we are recovering is for another post, but this whole new concept of OKRs seems to work well for a small agile organization like ours.

 Stay tuned for the next article in the series- How we use Weekdone to solve our OKR woes.

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