Brett Knowles, pm2 Consulting
Brett is a long-time thought leader in the Strategy Execution space for high-tech organizations, beginning in the late 80’s while teaching at Harvard and being involved in the initial Balanced Scorecard research and books. His client work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune and countless other business publications.
Pub: May 11 2021
Upd: November 23 2021
You cannot get in shape by going to the gym for 9 hours. You get in shape by going to the gym for 20 minutes every day. Consistency beats intensity.
The cadence of your OKR cycles will determine the agility of your organization, determine the performance improvement level you'll enjoy, and establish the sustainability of your OKR solution.
Let's take a look:
We'll put the 12 weeks in a quarter across the horizontal axis, and plot your OKR meetings as "O"s.
Set and Forget
We had one client who had two intense OKR updates and meetings in the quarter before we were invited in. One update shortly after launch and one towards the end of a quarter.
We call this approach "Set and forget". These two sporadic meetings did not create the cadence of accountability (term, thanks to Sean Covey). The effective message to the organization was "If you keep your head down, this too will pass. Management is not really committed to this." Some clients call this "management by the last book read".
For this client, these two meetings actually did more harm than good - it caused people to lose confidence in management and took away any glimmer of hope that they might have once had that they could contribute to the organization's success and that leadership would take them seriously.
A few intense meetings do not provide the results you are looking for. At the gym or at work.
A second common scenario is sporadic OKR updates and meetings. In this world, OKR updates and meetings are constantly being canceled, postponed for "more important issues", or called at the last minute with no time to prepare.
This haphazard meeting cadence generates haphazard results. "Performance" becomes a once-in-a-while conversation when there is nothing else to talk about, or the performance gets so bad that it becomes the burning platform and is all we can talk about. In these organizations, the performance issues often move to the top of the list only when there is not enough time to recover.
Again, this is like going to the gym periodically, when it is convenient.
Ensuring a consistent cadence of OKR updates and meetings drives sustained improvement. Every time. (The above illustration shows weekly OKR conversations; every team has its own "drum-beat" or cadence. You will need to figure out how frequently your team needs to meet. Even within the same organization, some teams need to meet more frequently than others.)
Why does a consistent cadence deliver awesome results? In our experience, because:
- You create a cadence of accountability - everyone knows that at the repeating and prescribed time, they will need to talk about their performance.
- It is the repeating cadence that creates the performance culture. Performance becomes a daily habit. Its transparency and availability make it risk-free for everyone to talk about performance at any time. We have more frequent, less formal, performance conversations.
- Strategy becomes a continuous process, not a once-a-year ceremony that results in another dust-covered slide deck. At pm2 our mantra is "making strategy everyone's everyday job" (Thanks to Dr. Norton and Guy Kawasaki).
- You see and solve issues sooner. Monitoring less significant issues more frequently means that small variations are noticeable - and can be addressed before they become large enough to show up in monthly financials or quarterly risk reports.
The results are the good news
What we have experienced is that if an organization maintains this cadence of OKR updates and meetings, they typically see:
- A 20% performance improvement (which is easy to measure because we are talking about key results, after all).
- A 25% reduction in performance meeting time (not number of meetings, but time in those meetings).
- A 30% improvement in employee engagement, resulting in lower turnover, shorter time-to-close open positions, improved customer satisfaction, and in some cases:
- The elimination of annual employee performance reviews (you still have to have that rewards conversation, but the performance stuff is dealt with on an ongoing basis throughout the year).
So it is your call - intensity or consistency? What approach should your organization take?
If you want to discover your team's "drumbeat" (cadence), let me know - I'll help you figure it out.
Photo credit - freepik