HR & Leadership

9 Conversations That Bring Goal, Role, and Plan Clarity—And Drive Growth

July 19, 2021

There’s always a lot more to do than you’ll ever have time to complete.

And there’s always a backlog of big and small initiatives and tasks that you know will have a positive impact on your company and teams. A new idea can suddenly feel like the most important thing to do—especially if your boss asked you to take it on. Who are you to say no to one more thing?

But if you want to optimize growth, you’ve got to get clarity on the goal, role, and plan for every employee. This clarity is paired with empowerment, agile working best practices, and great management.

When you’re desperate to do everything, you’re getting in the way of growth. Common issues you may recognize are:

  1. Discussing and defining goals that trump other possible demands on time and resources is rarely done and results in too many goals being targeted
  2. Everything is top priority and there’s a “We need to do it all now” mentality
  3. Poor or no separation between business-as-usual and priorities—it’s a blur
  4. People feel like they’re spread too thin and like they aren’t doing anything exceptionally well

OKRs and agile are meant to be the answer

When implemented well and paired with agile working, objectives and key results (OKRs) are meant to be the answer—and for many, they are.

There are also a number of companies using OKRs “in name only.” If they were using them properly, the issues outlined above wouldn’t be there. So, what does using these well look like?

This isn’t meant to be an OKR and agile best practice guide, but what’s important to know is that you should be aware of how to spot issues that might require improvements. Common challenges with these frameworks that cause issues are:

  1. Too many goals. Less is so much more with OKRs. Be ruthless about what your most important and impactful goals are and describe the end state you want to achieve.
  2. Outcomes, not inputs. Activities that are key results are still common, and it’s a relatively straightforward fix to create better measurable outcomes.
  3. Departments only. A great thing about OKRs is that you can build teams around the goal, not just a goal around a team. If there are no or very few cross-functional teams committed to OKRs, you could have issues with planning.
  4. Set and forget. Hold mandatory weekly check-ins where you discuss priorities for the week ahead, issues, and wins. These are essential to maintaining focus and removing executional friction.
  5. Business-as-usual (BAU) blur. OKRs are often used to describe business-as-usual activities—especially in roles that are mainly BAU-oriented. You need systems for capturing these contributions as well, such as using key performance indicators (KPIs) or what are sometimes called health metrics. These share what’s being worked on and maintained so that other metrics can become priorities for improvement.
  6. Hardwired to appraisals. If OKRs are truly expressions of what matters most and there is one owner and multiple collaborators, then most people are in a supporting role or will participate as part of an agile team working on tasks under the OKR itself—or they’re working hard to maintain BAU. Done well, OKRs are part of an employee’s story. They are not the story of who they are, how they performed, and how they contributed.

Agile ways of working are designed to work with defined and measurable outcomes. These outcomes are the focus of the trust, autonomy, fast execution cycles, learning loops, and work-life balance companies want to create.

But without focus for that enhanced productivity and enhanced learning, that energy can be suboptimally directed.

Conversations are the foundations of growth

There are a number of conversations you’ll want to have in order to achieve the goal, role, and plan clarity your agile teams can work towards. These are:

  • Long-term plans. What’s your mission, vision, purpose, and North Star (to guide you over many years)?
  • Strategy. What are the battlegrounds you need to win this year (aka “strategic pillars”)?
  • Unification goals. Is there a company OKR, or perhaps two OKRs, that could direct and unify everyone? This would be outside your KPIs/health metrics that tell everyone how you’re doing.
  • This quarter’s biggest opportunities. To support these company goals, what are the most important, highest priority objectives you should commit to in the next quarter? What is a hard-to-reach, desirable, and measurable end state—and who should be working on this?
  • Inspiration and backlogs. What are you putting down until the biggest opportunities have been seized? And when great new ideas are had and new opportunities arise, how are they shared, discussed, evaluated, and sequenced?
  • Health monitoring. Which metrics are you measuring to check company and team health? Who owns these, and who is helping to support their performance level?
  • Cadence. How often are you checking in and sharing priorities and problems for the coming week, quarter, etc.?
  • Platforming. How and where is this all going to be efficiently shared, managed, and reported on?
  • Culture. What behaviors do we need present in our culture to ensure this all becomes cultural?

When these conversations happen, the chances of success and growth improve significantly. To understand why, just imagine the opposite:

  • Not knowing what the company is trying to do for whom
  • Not knowing what the priorities are and how you can help
  • Not measuring and sharing progress on things that matter
  • Not being trusted to work in an autonomous and collaborative way towards an outcome
  • Not knowing the impact of your work—and not learning
  • Not seeing and appreciating what’s being maintained as well as ambitious goal achievement
  • Not feeling like it’s safe to be ambitious, share your best ideas, and push back when there are issues or conflicts

If this interests you, here’s some useful further reading to help you on your journey:

Header image: #WOCinTechChat

Founder at ZOKRI

Matt Roberts is the founder of OKR Software ZOKRI and shares his experiences as a tech founder and coach as far and wide as possible to create workplaces that are better from the ground-up.