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Understanding the OKR Mindset

Sure Köse Ulutaş
by Sure Köse Ulutaş • 2022-11-08

How easy is it to achieve comprehensive harmony within the company?

In a fast-changing and uncertain world, companies are asking, perhaps more than ever, the question of what is most important to them. While companies that ask this question and can answer it clearly can move forward with much more focused and confident steps than others, companies that cannot answer this question lose their focus by putting every job they encounter in the daily flow, even if it is not a priority, on their agenda and fail in the long run.

From an employee perspective, employees want to work in companies that have “clearly defined what's important and have a clear understanding of how their team and other teams will contribute to success”. According to studies, employees leave work environments at the first opportunity, where they do not know exactly what is expected of their role.

And at this point OKR (Objectives and Key Results) comes to the rescue as an agile management method. The OKR culture brings tremendous holistic rapport and therefore mental relaxation for the company, an environment where everyone in the company both knows the company priorities and how all teams and individuals can contribute to these priorities.


So, is it easy to make this change?

Honestly, it's not that easy.

Because we are talking about making a mental transformation within the company. We are talking about an outcome-oriented team culture that questions why it does everything it does, rather than an output-oriented team structure that previously focused on achieving the objectives from above.

For example:

Setting goals in the Output focus: Creating the marketing strategy

Setting goals in the Outcome focus: Increasing the number of members

The example in the output focus above focuses on the activity, not the result/effect, and we don't know whether this activity will have an impact on us. If we thought about outcome (impact / result), we would know that real success would come from an objective that shows real impact, such as the number of memberships.

Another example of output focus: getting property X live, completing project Y

If we have understood OKR correctly, we need to respond as a team to the question why we are bringing feature X live. Does the churn (loss rate) decrease when we take feature X live? If it doesn't, asking the question of what we should achieve in order to reduce the loss rate here requires outcome-oriented thinking.

Thinking in this way requires a significant mental transformation, as the team constantly asks itself the question of what we do and why, and questions what kind of result each work does, and for this very reason, it is necessary to start by knowing that change can take time and there is a possibility of failure in the first try.

The most important criterion for success is a leader team who devote enough time (it can take weeks of conversations for a team to determine their OKR) and effort to this transformation, encourage their team to think impact-oriented, hold each check-in/review meeting without delaying even a single day, create a two-way goal setting environment instead of distributing goals from the top, ensure the ownership of the objectives, and help their team determine the right KR’s.

Here are the two biggest obstacles to the success of OKR transformation, which we, as the Team Melon, often see:

Writing everything we do as OKR: Another criterion for this change to be successful is that OKR, by its very nature, must bring about a transformation/change. Trying to write everything we do like OKR can make OKR a to-do list for teams. It is an important issue for a successful transition that business as usual issues are not included in OKRs, and OKRs focus on transformation/change-making results. By its nature, OKR is a team sport in which we work as a team on a small number of focal points, constantly measuring progress and achieving certain results/achievements at the end of each quarter. We need to define clearly and simply which game we will play.

Writing individual OKRs: The OKR is not an individual performance assessment tool. Using OKR to measure individual performance will destroy all the inherent benefits of OKR to think creatively, push boundaries, set challenging goals as a team. OKRs must remain at team level. Individuals contribute to OKR through the process of establishing OKR as members of the relevant team, weekly check-ins, and daily activities.

As a team that has implemented OKR projects many times to date, the first question we ask before transitioning to OKR's way of doing business is why the company wants to make this change. For companies that cannot describe well what they want to achieve and therefore do not have a strategy, we want them to complete their strategy studies before making the OKR transformation. Finding the answer to this question sometimes takes more time than anticipated. Trying to perform an OKR conversion without answering this question is the same as using navigation without knowing the destination; you can move forward from where you started, but there is a high probability of moving away from your destination.

In functional structures, performing the OKR transformation can be a factor that makes this transformation very challenging, as it brings big changes such as teams writing OKR together and checking in together. We will cover this topic in depth in other articles.

In summary, OKRs focus on outcomes rather than outputs, encouraging behavior that is truly right. This is crucial to the success of the business. For example, an e-commerce website that focuses on the result of sales rather than traffic on the website will definitely be more successful than one that focuses solely on traffic. Likewise, a project manager should decide on the features based on the question of what kind of user behavior change the product aims at, rather than what features I should add to the product.


If we think of OKR as a journey

Imagine you want to go on a journey. The first thing you need to decide is where you want to go, so you can choose to use a travel guide and choose to travel from point A to point B on a specific route. When you determine your destination, you enter the destination in your GPS. You can think of GPS as OKR. Always keep an eye on the GPS, helping you monitor whether you are on the right track and correct the route if necessary. Finally, as you drive to your chosen destination, you look at many other metrics on the car dashboard to make sure the car works correctly; fuel amount, speed status, oil status, etc. (KPIs). As long as the dials on the control panel are within certain thresholds, you don't care about them — after all, it's all about getting where you want to be. But if your dashboard shows you're running out of fuel, you need to adjust your route and find a gas station. So, if there is a problem with the KPIs, you may need to go back and reconsider your OKRs.


If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of embarking on this transformation journey, we recommend checking out the OKR beginner's guide by Melon.