Get a C-Level Team To Buy Into Big Goals with OKR

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Get a C-level team to buy into big goals with OKR

More and more CEOs are becoming frustrated that their management teams aren’t buying into strategic growth and find themselves asking, “Why is it so hard to get a c-level team to buy into growth?”

With that being said, the term ‘growth’ has different meanings for different organizations, primarily due to the journey of each business’s CEO. Growth for many CEOs—up to a point—comes organically, and often without asking, “What are we going to do next?”

Yet, every business gets to the point of growth where not everybody in the organization welcomes it—because growth often means more work and more sacrifice. This is where the disconnect between the CEO and his employees begins.

As a CEO, have you asked people for their medium-term outlook as it relates to growth? It is best to articulate the “why” of growth early and often, not once a year and only when discussing the upcoming year’s goals. More importantly, the reasons for growth need to trickle down and resonate with the staff.

When entering a period of growth in your organization that entails increased workloads (and, as a result, more sacrifice), it’s time to consider these changes:

  1. Raise your awareness of your team’s commitment.
  2. Increase your planning on a medium term basis.
  3. Elevate your team’s knowledge of strategic objectives.

Communication Impacts Commitment

As the CEO, you cannot assume everyone in the organization commits—you have to regularly discuss the medium-term objectives of the business at all levels of the organization. If you want to prepare the team for growth, they need time to think about it and how it affects them both personally and professionally.

The key is maintaining an open, two-way dialogue through your organization and seeking a better understanding of all groups as they pertain to revenue growth and culture.

Maybe as CEO, you did not bring the team up to speed on instances of shrinking margins or having to write off a couple of bad deals. The problem here is not the bad deals or the margins— it is the communication about those issues.

What is the strategic planning cadence of the organization? What framework do you use to ensure consistent strategic conversations about the medium term?

Answer these questions, and you will better understand the thoughts of the company’s general direction past this year—and provide insight as to how it will carry over into the medium term. This is related to understanding what your team’s motivation is and what’s on their minds. Many CEOs don’t go out of their way to find out what their staff is thinking about beyond this week, let alone a month or year.

Plan to Over Plan

Many leaders overlook the medium term because near term, operational shortcomings drive the CEO and their company’s day-to-day decisions. A CEO’s focus tends to gravitate towards urgent and important things—or urgent and unimportant, as the case may be. And nothing is pressing about medium term planning—it is essential but not urgent.

However, a successful CEO must think proactively—because with growth comes friction, and with friction comes growth. That is a tough ask! It is not uncommon for a leader’s empathy to be outstripped by growth. If a CEO’s level of empathy is not where it should be, he or she cannot connect with the “why” of why growth and friction are a “tough ask.”

Ask yourself, have I previously had the right conversation regarding the medium term? In many cases, the answer is no. The right conversation does not happen for many reasons; perhaps the CEO is too busy, maybe they don’t spend enough time with the staff. When they do, they talk about things in the “now,” and not about things beyond the next 12 months.

Don’t Use a Rearview Mirror to Find a Blind Spot

If a CEO continuously struggles to connect with his/her team, we at People Stretch call that a “blind spot,” and we see it frequently. Everybody, including the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, is a human being, and humans develop blind spots over time.

A simple lack of information is an example of a blind spot. We help uncover that blind spot not only by supplying timely data, but by coaching employees to gather that data effectively. Equally important is the concept of bringing the CEO and his/her staff together and aligned around a shared vision. That is what “buy-in” is all about—bringing people together.  

How The OKR Framework Can Help

The OKR Framework unites historically disparate departments, teams, and individuals around the organization’s top priorities. It does this by simultaneously engaging all these groups in a quarterly strategic planning process. Maintaining a quarterly cadence is essential to smashing through those pesky medium-term goals and ensuring you stay on the right course to those important, long-term ones.

OKR Creates Focus & Inspiration

A common dilemma that employees face is feeling that their ‘mission’ shifts weekly or even daily. Without a solid structure like OKRs, it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure that employees know what they are working towards and that they’re confident in their priorities. Beyond the general confusion resulting from potentially arbitrary goals, a lack of focus can lead to animosity among people who disagree on the most significant goals! Differences of opinion on individual or organization-wide missions cause conflict and general inefficiency that can be avoided with implementing the OKR framework.

We highly recommend being optimistic while setting up OKRs. Ideally, set them high. If you put them just above what you usually achieve, you may not inspire your employees enough, and they will do just enough to meet the set numbers.

OKR Creates A Larger Coalition of The Willing

You can move mountains by working together, and this is what OKRs help you achieve. The OKR framework demands an organization involve more employees in the strategic planning process. Depending on the company’s size, this might start with involving more members of the mid-level management team and other key employees. This larger group gets to work on top-level objectives, resulting in more champions to push its employees’ mission. What further strengthens this coalition is the frequency in which they meet. Most companies focus on strategic planning only once or twice a year, however, it is critical to do it quarterly, in varying degrees, to help keep the larger coalition willingly focused on growth and execution.

Cascading Objectives Drive More Conversations

The strategic planning phase of a quarterly OKR cycle increases conversation around what matters most to an organization.  This uptick in communication is a result of leaders cascading down top-level Objectives to departments, teams, and frontline employees.  The mission, vision, and values of an organization bubbles to the top of conversations with higher frequency as Objectives are discussed and Key Results are set.  

Many companies had these conversations infrequently in the past because their goals did not align to the key elements of the company. According to research done by Deloitte, a coaching technology platform, mission-driven workers are 54 percent more likely to stay for five years at a company and 30 percent more likely to grow into high performers than those who arrive at work with only their paycheck as the motivator.

OKR Aligns Teams and Holds Them Accountable

In most organizations, the executive team is the only group consistently aligned on the organization’s strategic plan due to proximity, visibility, and participation in the creation of their goals. Within the plan, the C-suite sets the goals and inevitably owns the results each quarter. This leads to most of the organizations not having high degrees of accountability at lower levels in the organization.  

The cascading nature of Objectives helps everyone get involved and better understand the top-level Objectives every quarter, leading to greater alignment.  When each level creates OKRs that align to a level above, organizations can achieve harmony on how OKRs contribute to the organization’s bottom line and strategic priorities. This additional level of participation and understanding drives greater “buy-in” from the balance of the company. The OKR framework calls for an increase in progress tracking on the Objectives, keeping employees at all levels stay focused on their commitments.

Get Individuals to Commit to Organizational Objectives with OKR

It is difficult to hold individuals accountable unless they are committed to the outcomes the organization desires. Once OKRs are created to be inspiring and focused, the organization must include the team and help them align. Doing so creates awareness around everyone’s contributions, makes a public commitment to the leader and team, shares OKRs with everyone, and enlists any support needed. Throughout the OKR cycle, commitment is continuously reinforced through progress check-ins, monthly reviews, and one-on-ones with team leaders. Commitment helps to ensure that OKRs are active and that each person is working diligently to achieve them.

The CEO is the most critical example of commitment to OKRs. Most OKR implementations that fail do so because of a lack of CEO commitment. The CEO must be involved regularly and seen as a person who values OKRs. The CEO sets the tone for the entire OKR implementation and is vital to the success of OKRs based on his/her ability to demonstrate the value they see in OKRs and their commitment to sticking to the process. The CEO must be involved in the planning cycle. Further, the CEO must make OKRs a part of their daily conversations and reinforce the importance of striving for the future of the organization. 

Increase Transparency Across Teams with OKR

Once a company moves into the execution phase of the OKR cycle, leaders and managers need to bring OKRs into team meetings so the focus and tracking around OKRs can create visibility within the team and ultimately across the organization.  Increased visibility leads to transparency around both team and individual performance. Many CEOs want this for their organization; however, there is often no structured way to do it for teams, outside of sales, due to challenges with measuring progress on department, team, and individual performance. In the execution phase of OKRs, progress is being reflected in the Key Result, and it helps everyone understand how different levels of the organization are performing.  Transparency boosts communication and leads to underperformers receiving help from people other than their managers.

OKR Accelerates Individual Performance

Another key part of the execution phase of the OKR cycle, is the focus to improve one-on-ones’ by discussing OKRs weekly. This new addition to one-on-ones can have a performance acceleration effect if leveraged correctly. The key is to use the information and spend time discussing how to stay focused, increase the velocity of progress, review previous tactics, and develop news to progress the Key Results.  In “Measure What Matters,” John Doerr refers to this effect as CFRs:  conversations, feedback, and recognition.  Leveraging the OKR framework allows a leader/manager to increase the frequency of the three aforementioned items and deepen the quality of interaction, thoughtful feedback, and timeliness of recognition. 

OKR Creates a Culture of Stretch

OKRs build winning teams. They motivate us to excel by doing more than we ever thought possible! Companies only get to that point by establishing a culture where employees feel safe to stretch. The most important place to begin this cultural shift is in retrospectives. This is the end-of-the-quarter session where the leadership team, and other departments and teams independently review how they performed against their OKRs for the quarter. In these sessions, it is essential to celebrate the winners and learn from where people fell short.  It is also important to highlight the people who took chances by setting loftier goals.  In the latter case, employees will get more comfortable with setting more ambitious OKRs if they see that the world does not end if they don’t quite meet their goals.  The organization will value their efforts even though the KRs weren’t accomplished.

The cascading nature of Objectives helps everyone get involved and better understand the top-level Objectives every quarter, leading to greater alignment.  When each level creates OKRs that align to a level above, organizations can achieve harmony on how OKRs contribute to the organization’s bottom line and strategic priorities. This additional level of participation and understanding drives greater “buy-in” from the balance of the company. 

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