Running OKR’s — How to create a growth mindset in your team

February 26, 2024
7 min read
Possessed Photography on Unsplash
"The key is not to do everything, but to know what to do and then do it."
Gracie Allen

You have built your OKRs. You have tested them. Now it’s time to run them.

If you get this right, you have a system to manage work. Better yet, that work executes the strategy. It’s aligned. You have a rugged scaffolding for team performance. Your people have autonomy and clarity.

Your job gets easier.

Here are six routines to run your OKRs smoothly.

  1. Free up space.
  2. Build a rhythm.
  3. Get comfortable with data.
  4. Create patterns of work.
  5. Teach to learn.
  6. Celebrate outcomes.

Free up space.

If your OKRs pass the 90% test, you know with certainty that they will cover 90% of the team’s work and be strategically aligned with higher goals. This gives you an opportunity—to get rid of busywork.

Any team will have three types of work.

Core work—the work at the heart of the job. This is the building, selling, and running that helps the business succeed today. Think of it as the work that keeps the money rolling into the business or keeps the lights on—it’s what you’re paid for.

Critical work—the work that ensures the future. This is the planning, improving, and innovating that positions the business to succeed tomorrow. This is the work that makes what you do current, relevant, and efficient—it’s the persistent change that is management.

Busy work—the work that gums up the gears of business.  It’s the quarterly report you were once asked to produce, and now, no one reads. The old system that no one has asked you to switch off. This is the inertia in the business. The work that people cling to, not because it’s important, but because we’ve always done it this way.

You will never completely get rid of busy work, but you want to squeeze it out of the week as much as possible. Your first order of business, once you have your OKRs: Create a “don’t do” list. The work or projects you can put on hold or simply stop because they are not core or critical.

Build a rhythm.

OKRs inform your work.

That applies daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly.

Daily—everyone on the team is working against OKRs. The tasks, projects, emails, and meetings are all moving the ball forward. The OKRs set the playing field. They are a filter. If the work makes progress against the OKRs, good, keep doing that work. If it’s not, stop. It’s likely not a high priority and not worth the time and effort.

Thought for the day:  “Is this [the work I am doing] progressing my OKRs?”

Weekly—regular check-in or stand-up. These are focused on the work. The team collectively looks at some kind of scorecard or dashboard tracking work against OKRs. These check-ins keep everyone focused and allow for real-time adjustments if you’re veering off track.

Ask: How are we doing? What help do you need? What are we moving forward this week?

Monthly—(or as needed) set and reset the work against the OKRs. Close out completed assignments. Conduct retrospectives. Assign new projects; spin up new workstreams—all to progress work against OKRs.

Celebrate progress: This is your operational rhythm. You do something, declare victory, and move on. Your efforts are moving you closer to your OKRs. What’s next up? Do we have too much on the plate that’s slowing us down? This is a time to adjust.

Quarterly—(or sooner, if needed) revisit your OKRs and refresh. Business isn’t static, and neither are your OKRs. This is a strategic conversation. The job is the same as when you set and tested your OKRs. Making sure they are concrete and clear enough for people to work with and aligned and relevant to the strategy.

Meet with your team: Ideally, run this as a live, in-person session. Encourage frank and free-ranging conversation. Adjust your OKRs as needed. This is the critical work that improves how your team executes.

Get comfortable with data.

OKRs work because they are objective. Ironically, that’s the KR piece.

Using OKRs moves work along in a strategic direction, and you know you are making progress. Thank you, data. Except. The “Except” is the downfall of data; it’s easy to fall into the habit of measuring everything. As you do, the act of measuring slows progress and causes spin. You soon move from Key Results (KRs) to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to a Whole Lot of Performance Indicators (WLPI). Not good.

Quick story. We once worked with a company that was swimming in data. They believed in it. They measured everything. They split markets into regions and had twenty regional vice presidents. Each RVP was competitive and transparent with data. That was how they drove execution. The problem was that they had so many KPIs; every vice president was #1 in something. Not good.

Use data. Be transparent. But don’t measure for measurement’s sake.

Have a system or tool where everyone can see progress against OKRs. That visibility maintains accountability and shared ownership. Everyone is aware of how their actions impact the team’s Objectives.

But it’s better when transparency is coated with understanding.

Try tier-listing your data. If you don’t know, tier-listing is a ranked classification system originally used by gamers. Tier lists are all over the internet, rating everything from Formula 1 to medieval helmets.

In the not-quite-as-interesting but definitely useful category, build a tier list for your data.

S-tier: (S for superb) These are the measures that drive the business. The ones Wall St. cares about. Revenue, Profit Margin, Market Share.

A-tier: These are the direct measures for your OKRs.  The primary KPIs in your key results. In a product organization, these might be market share by product, adoption rate, or customer feedback score on new features.

B-tier: These are the KPIs that move the needle of the A-tier. In that same product organization, they might provide insight into the efficiency and effectiveness of the product development process, time to market for new features, bug fix time, and percentage of roadmap complete.

C-tier: These KPIs are proxy measures. They are easy to measure, sometimes useful, and rarely indicative of a business outcome. In that same product organization, proxy measures might be feature deployment frequency (indicates the team is working hard, but not that the work is driving business outcomes) or uptime/ stability metrics (important, but only tells us if the product is working, not if people buy it or are using it).

D-tier: These are KPIs that don’t tie or correlate to business outcomes. You can measure them and maybe do, but they’re rarely useful. For example, hours worked per week, number of meetings held, lines of code written, all measure activity, not progress.

When the team understands the value of each measure, you can separate the signal from the noise.

Create patterns of work.

You might have heard the term “patterns of play.”

You see it in football (both types, the world version and the American one). The pattern is a set of repeating tactics. They’re codified. Everyone on the team understands their role. Routines and decisions boil down a complex strategy. The play is an effective amalgam of the teams’ strengths to produce results.

All sports have them. They name them. Tiki Taka (football), Ground and Pound (American football), Triangle Offense (basketball), Small Ball (baseball), Bomb and Gouge (golf). Patterns of play create a common language for players, coaches, and fans. Everyone involved has a sense of shared ownership. Every player understands their role in achieving the team's goals. Everyone knows what good looks like.

So it goes with patterns of work.

The pattern of work is effectively “what good looks like” for business. If your OKRs define the win, the pattern of work is how you win. Repeating the pattern is a path to speed and scale. The pattern is deliberate and simple.

You might create a pattern of work through a product launch process or checklist. The patterns operationalize and sequence tasks. Everyone knows the “how.” They have shared ownership and a common language. A pattern might be how you take in customer input or produce a particular report. It might be ritualized—customer advisory panels, idea funnels, or performance reviews.

As important as establishing that pattern is coaching to it—everyone understands their role and brings their particular skills to the table.

Teach to learn.

As a leader, your job is to hold your team accountable to their OKRs.

But it doesn’t end there. Much of your time will be spent teaching, focused on two goals: the OKRs of the team (the “what” and the “when”) and upgrading the skills and capabilities of the team.  This is where you teach to learn.

A missed Key Result is a learning opportunity. So is one you hit.

That starts with a growth mindset. You hear this in different ways: there’s always a higher gear, what got you here won't get you there, raise the bar. A growth mindset is the change in change management. The idea that we can get better and the optimism to believe it.

As you run the team to OKRs, praise effort and process, not just outcomes. Encourage taking risks and experimenting, but only if you’re comfortable learning from setbacks without blame. Encourage team members to continually work on “one thing;” their own personal growth opportunity.

Use patterns. Turn a growth mindset into a ritual. A retrospective focused on collective learning. Or a “why it’s good” session, where you tear down a piece of work, not to find out why it didn’t work, but what worked well.

Teach. Obsess about demystifying and simplifying. Explain. Break things down into simple steps. Tell stories. Use analogies. Encourage curiosity.

When you give feedback, make it about the team. The focus is collective success, not personal failure. Don’t cover harsh feedback in a s**** sandwich. Make the feedback about what the team needs from you; how you can help, not what you did wrong or what you can improve.

Celebrate outcomes.

This routine could have been “celebrate completed OKRs,” but it’s not.

OKRs done right execute strategy. They offer clarity. The team is aligned and engaged. People feel autonomy and purpose. That is the outcome you celebrate. The journey, as much as the destination.

You’re looking to balance data—objective results; with feeling—trust, engagement, and personal growth. Every milestone met shows you have done something. You declare victory and move on. That’s an opportunity to highlight the team’s great work and note exceptional individual contributions.

Pick out the hard, soft stuff.

Not just getting a project over the finish line but the way the team collaborated, where they challenged each other, where people took bold stances or exceeded expectations.

Paint a picture. Remind everyone of the journey and make time for storytelling and symbolism—the challenges overcome and the impact on customers or the business.

Gavin McMahon is a founder and Chief Content Officer for fassforward consulting group. He leads Learning Design and Product development across fassforward’s range of services. This crosses diverse topics, including Leadership, Culture, Decision-making, Information design, Storytelling, and Customer Experience. He is also a contributor to Forbes Business Council.

Eugene Yoon is a graphic designer and illustrator at fassforward. She is a crafter of Visual Logic. Eugene is multifaceted and works on various types of projects, including but not limited to product design, UX and web design, data visualization, print design, advertising, and presentation design.

Free Survey
About Us
Our Thinking
Free Downloads