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Inquired: How do I avoid the biggest stumbling blocks in dealing with OKRs?

I took the time to ask Dominique Nagpal a few questions about objectives and especially OKRs put.

Cédric: To start with the important topic of inspiration: what are inspiring OKRs? Is there a fear of not being inspiring?

Dominique: I read all the time that OKRs should be inspiring. The thing is that we all strive to use OKRs to advance the goals of our organisation. Inspiration is certainly great if you have it or get it, but in practice it often becomes a stumbling block. 

Cédric: What would be preferable - to refine the perfectly inspiring goal and miss the start of the OKR period or to use solidly based OKRs to get the job done? 

Dominique: Thank you for the very justified question. In my experience, leaders and team members need a lot of time to define a perfectly inspiring OKR, or they reject enough perfect OKRs because they are not inspiring enough, so my choice is the solid OKRs.

Cédric: Another OKR quirk: stretch targets. Targets stretch and stretch, what's the point?

Dominique: According to ORK literature the targets are strechy. The reality is that some companies (e.g. many technology start-ups) respond well to stretch targets. Other, often more mature, established companies or areas of public administration find that stretch targets are counterproductive.  

However, I have come to realize that the massive increase in performance that comes from setting and communicating clear goals and creating meaningful direction is what is so effective. The leverage they achieve here outweighs the benefits of stretch targets many times over. 

Cédric: So what would you recommend?

Dominique: I clearly recommend customers not to waste time worrying whether their OKRs are stretchy enough - if it turns out that they can do more, it will become clear over time.

Cédric: A clear statement, thank you. I would like to talk about alignment: How can alignment be achieved without too many regulations?

Dominique: A good topic with regard to OKRs. Indeed, one has to accept or learn to accept an imperfect alignment, or an alignment, depending on the case. The perfectly aligned organization probably only exists on the paper of an academic textbook.

Instead, I would try to strive for meaningful alignment by communicating clear OKRs at the corporate level and by giving each department, function or team the opportunity to use the power of the OKR framework to independently align themselves to the desired results. The immediate effect of stopping the unimportant and focusing more time on the actions and activities that drive growth far outweighs any academically interesting but in practice illusory vision of perfect alignment. This is my very personal opinion.

Cédric: One also hears that the issue of transparency can lead to problems during the introduction, is this your experience?

Dominique: Transparency has various degrees. Of course, transparency should be encouraged and made possible throughout the organization. However, similar to alignment, full transparency will probably prove to be excessive or even counterproductive. The reality is that transparency must be balanced against regulatory requirements such as data protection and labour laws and should be sensible, sensitive and flexible to take account of cultural differences and personal preferences. Once again, the benefits of improved transparency are worth the effort, regardless of whether that transparency is perfect.

Cédric: And finally, your vote on the "widespread introduction of OKRs", yes or no? 

Dominique: I think we agree that OKRs affect everyone, but do we really have to stipulate that everyone must have 2-3 OKRs? My advice is to stop the use of mandatory OKRs. The requirement that each individual employee must have a certain number of OKRs from day one increases the administrative burden and the risk of failure. If this is a problem, there is a simple solution: start small and simply start the process. A clear set of company OKRs, communicated to everyone for a few quarters, will work wonders if everyone pulls together.