21 OKR experts give their best advice for OKR champions
During your OKR rollout, there will often be a lot of questions, concerns and confusion. It’s because of this that you will see many companies selecting an OKR champion. The job of this champion is to know the ins and outs of OKRs, facilitating a successful rollout, training internally, and driving adoption.
This can be quite the task, especially at larger and more complex organisations. Because of this, we asked our OKR expert community what advice they would give to OKR champions, both to sway those internally toward OKRs, and to help get their company up and running in the space.
Paul Niven, Global OKR Coach & OKR Author
I don’t believe the job of the Champion is to ‘convince’ the CEO they need to use OKRs. In my experience, the most successful implementations are led by CEOs who have discovered the power of OKRs themselves and have acted as true executive sponsors for the framework. It’s possible you can convince someone of the system’s efficacy, but you’re more likely to be successful if the CEO him or herself is the initial champion of the idea.
Mukom Tamon, The Chief Excellence Officer™️ Academy, OKRs, 4DX & Lean Six Sigma expert
- First the champion needs credibility: Demonstrate how you have used OKRs successfully — let’s see your OKR Results first.
- Ask the CEO to NOT announce an “OKR Champion!”
- Help the CEO (behind the scenes)
- First learn OKRs themselves (using a consultant if need be)
- Explain the role of OKRs in the strategy and execution process
- Hold a retreat to review the strategic plan, key company level measures of success and clearly identify the role each business unit plays in delivering it
- Give each frontline manager one goal: “Work with your team to create 3 - 5 OKRs for your team that are aligned with the company business model and strategic plan. If you need assistance, ask [name of champion] for help since he has done it before.”
In a nutshell, relegate the OKR champion to a support role …. providing support to front-line managers who must be allowed to set the pace and direction of OKRs.
Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus Author, OKR Expert, Consultant & Stanford Lecturer
1. Go slow. Talk to your boss out of trying to roll out OKRs for the entire company in one quarter. Run a pilot. Do tons of retrospectives in post-mortems. Learn. Every company needs to do some tuning to OKRs before they really work well.
2. Start with one high performing team first. Many managers want to use OKRs to "fix" a bad team, but OKRs are a vitamin, not an aspirin. If you have a bad team, address it via personnel, organization or norming approaches first. Save OKRs when the team is functional enough to achieve amazing things.
3. If the executive team wants to try it out, that's fine but don't try cascading or aligning OKRs right away.* If the executive team sets a very clear OKR for the entire company, have teams look at it for inspiration and set their own. If some people feel like they can't contribute to the company OKR, that's fine. Don't start with the harder uses of OKRs. Just get the rhythm in place with the low hanging fruit.
*If a company is very small or a startup, they can cascade, but if you have more than 3 levels of hierarchy, you need to not cascade and instead set company OKRs (and BU OKRs if relevant) then have everyone align to those; i.e. look at the company OKRs and ask, how can I contribute to that effort? If the answer is no, ask "how can I be a team that supports that effort." Exceptions exist, including R&D and service groups.
Cansel Sörgens, Business Coach, OKR Coach & Trainer
After many change projects I’ve accompanied in the last 12+ years, I’ve realised the best change is the one that grows organically. If you want to convince the organisation that OKR is the right framework for you, start with a team that voluntarily wants to try it out with you. In every organisation there are early adopters who love to experiment new “things”. Find those people and start with them. If you inspire them, they will tell others how helpful OKR has been for them. Let the early adopters be your promoters. Let the change grow organically till you reach the early majority. In an organisation I’ve started with one team and within the first 6 months there were 3 more teams willing to work with OKR, and within a year there were 8 teams. Besides, during that time, until you reach the tipping point, you’ll have the experience you needed to scale OKRs to be company wide. No matter how experienced you’re in OKRs, you’ll always need time to understand how that specific organisation works and what they need. I personally follow the motto is “Nail it before you scale it”.
Allan Kelly, Agile OKR Coach & OKR Author
In the digital age long running products underpin our businesses, transient IT projects are yesterday. OKRs can fill the middle ground left by the demise of the project model: OKRs look beyond the sprint and align with long term strategy. At the same time, when used right, OKRs can help devolve authority to teams and provide governance. If that sounds all too good to be true remember: implementation requires effort!
Madeleine Silva, OKR Coach & Trainer
- Be patient, to deploy OKRs also brings a change of culture, because companies are deploying a new way of working. So at the beginning we need to repeat, repeat, and repeat everything to people
- Find allies that might help to spread the word on OKRs. You need many eyes and hands (for adoption), so you can create a petite committee who can help you
- With the CEO, try to show him/her and success companies´ cases related to the same field
Christina Lange, OKR Coach & Speaker
Persuading is for me less about talking and more about listening. “Listen to understand” is the mantra every OKR-champion should have. Understand the context, the challenges & the needs and you will discover together with the colleagues, what benefit OKRs could bring to them. My observation: the benefit can vary from person to person: one is lacking transparency, one is lacking a data-driven mindset, another one wants to know how the product pays into a bigger picture. For all of them, OKRs has some benefits. Listen to them and ensure that you start the journey together with the team.
Catherine Chen, OKR Coach
Ideally, the OKRs journey should be initiated by the CEO or top management of a company. But in some cases, some middle management members introduce OKRs to the CEO. In this situation, they should stand in the CEO‘s shoes. For example, what is the CEO’s biggest concern right now?
Suppose the CEO wants to engage employees to speed up the company's growth. In that case, the OKRs champion can propose OKRs to the CEO from the benefits of improving employees' focus and alignment. If the CEO wants to improve the team's agility, then the OKRs champion can share some case studies to the CEO and explain how OKRs can achieve that objective.
In summary, the OKRs champion, always be prepared with some OKRs case studies and knowledge before he/she approaches the CEO for the proposal.
Hannes Albrecht, Founder of how-to-okr
An internal OKR Champ is key for success indeed, this is why we run a dedicated long term program for this role to build up expertise and receive coaching over time. But the main role here is not so much about acting as the key evangalizer for OKRs internally. It’s more about facilitating the process, setting deadlines and reminders, providing answers to OKR related questions, helping and reminding to embed OKRs into routines and ceremonies.
If an OKR Champ needs to convince the CEO to use OKRs, something is entirely wrong. The CEO - ideally the leadership team - is the main driver when it comes to acceptance and building habits and discipline. If they don’t understand the why and the purpose of doing this, you also don’t need to start having an internal OKR Champ. So first decide on a go for OKRs, then appoint an internal OKR Champ. Don’t try to build big teams of Champs. Keep them small and engaged. My rule of thumb is 1 or max 2 per 100 employees or maybe more based on different locations.
Jean-Luc Koning, OKR & Systemic Coach, Founder of OkrConsulting.fr
First off, I would make it clear to the whole company what one can expect from an OKR champion. Among other things, as Ben Lamorte puts it, they are the ones in charge of "continuously communicating and ensuring alignment on work related to the key result". Following from this partial definition, I think my number one piece of advice would revolve around the alignment issue. I would challenge the champion to question their colleagues/CEO about the extent to which their team level objectives have been steadily aligned with the top level ones so far.
Such a question would undoubtedly lead to a cognitive dissonance within their colleagues/CEO who would now be faced with finding ways to bridge the gap between the "what is" and the "what should be". And obviously, in this matter, one good way to move from where they are to where they should be is by means of OKRs.
Carsten Ley, OKR Goal-Setting Coach
- Make a pilot project on one level (e.g. company level) or with one team or project first
- See how you can adapt the OKR process to the current goal-setting process of the companies (e.g. use KPIs as KRs, leverage current management & team meetings for OKR updates)
- Use an OKR tool to make the updates and progress easier and more visible
- Create a team of OKR champions throughout the organisation as ambassadors in each country or function
Monica Batsleer, Senior Partner of OKR Matrix
For us, OKR is a management model that guarantees the execution of the company's strategy. Looking from this point of view the CEO can't be convinced, he/she must be the highest sponsor since the beginning.
Yes, we do believe that the OKR Champion is one of the most important roles to engage others and support the CEO to implement the changes.
As a change manager, the OKR Champion can promote the successful adoption of OKRs:
- Being the OKR focal point and reference to promote a Culture of Continuous Performance Management
- Leading OKRs governance
- Involving teams and leaders in a lean management model
- Connecting OKR with other organisational practices
- Connecting OKR with other practices, consolidating OKR as one of the main management tools
- Structuring OKR engagement of new employees
Richard Russell, OKR & Leadership Coach
Start with where they are: the problems they are encountering and the motivation they have to solve these problems. Often enough, these problems are with clarity alignment around strategy, and low engagement from their staff. Both of these problems are areas where OKRs can help the manager change their approach to solve the problem - but the real change requires them to have deep motivation.
Nikhil Maini, Founder & Managing Director at OKR International, Professional OKR Coach & Behaviorist
In the wake of October 2015, Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE), in his interview with McKinsey Publishing said, “In the digital age, sitting down once a year to do anything is weird, is just bizarre.” Relying on systems that were created for customers and market conditions that are no longer valid, is sheer stupidity. So, how do OKRs become a relevant fix here?
Let us examine what organisations need today, quite desperately in fact, to sustain themselves and grow. In my conversation with CEOs and CXO leaders, entrepreneurs of start-ups and scale-up organisations, the following factors have emerged as key mandates for organisational success.
- Converting strategy to execution, quickly
- Laser focus on priorities
- Greater alignment of efforts & resources toward common goals
- Need for value creation (outcome mindset not activity mindset)
- More interdependencies between teams
- Rapid innovation (Fail-Fast through a culture of psychological safety)
- Employee engagement & ownership
The Practice of OKRs helps organisations build agility, enhance interdependencies, increase levels of innovation, and create more ownership and engagement from its employees. OKRs are also, therefore, the automatic choice for businesses that want to gear up to create a (P.A.C.E.D) Purposeful Organisation, Agile Leadership, Culture, Empathy and Digitisation led company.
Bart Den Haak, Consultant & OKR Author
Although it's very good to have internal coaches help with the rollout of OKRs, I don’t believe it should be the role of the “champion” to convince the CEO. The CEO (sometimes the CTO or CPO) is the only person in the company that can make OKRs work. They need to be actively involved. Convincing people to use OKRs is the same like any other change process: Strong leadership needs to communicate the urgency for the change. You can read more about this in my upcoming book: Moving the Needle With Lean OKRs.
Paul Barker, OKR & Strategy Coach
Make the case clear - ensure that the rationale for implementing OKRs is agreed upon and clearly understood. There are different reasons, and most of them are valid. But implementing OKRs to increase accountability vs. implementing OKRs to create focus are different reasons, which would lead to different ways of implementation.
Don’t create unnecessary overheads - as much as is practically possible, fit in with the current systems and structures. Don’t force teams to use a new piece of software before they’re convinced of the benefits; don’t create new weekly meetings if they already exist; don’t give everyone an OKR just because it sounds like a good idea. Convince teams of the benefits and they will adopt it.
Go slow to go fast - don’t roll it all out at once, start with one team and figure it out. The OKR methodology has many nuances and different ways; it’s critical for the OKR champion (hopefully with a coach) to find the right way for the company to implement the methodology. And this doesn’t happen on the first try. Commit and keep going.
Kenneth Paul Lewis, Co-Founder and Director at OKR International, Angel Investor, and Leadership Coach
Based on your organisation’s way of doing things, here are some tips for the OKR champion:
- Run a pilot for a quarter or two in a team or a slice of the business. Nothing tastes better than success (especially internal success). I recommend all Champions to read the book Switch by the Heath Brothers on Change Management
- Get an OKR expert to speak to your colleagues and CEO. This can be a non-committal meeting; where the OKR expert shares best practices and experience
- Get the movers and shakers educated on OKRs. There’s nothing better than learning through experienced OKR specialists
- The champions should create a few strategic and team OKRs and demonstrate how it will align and connect
- Prepare them to have a learner’s mindset; where they can look at possibilities and regularly refine their goals to reach a larger purpose
Omid Akhavan, OKR Coach at OKRs.com
Companies should have an executive sponsor who will assign the champion and support him/her to secure CEO/executive commitment. Note that in medium-size companies the CEO is typically the sponsor and in small-size companies the CEO may play the champion role as well.
As the first step, the champion needs to find out which challenges and pain points the leaders/employees are dealing with and figure out which ones can be resolved using OKRs i.e. answer this key question: “Why are we going to use OKRs in our company?”
Once the answer to that is crystal clear, the champion could help the leaders/employees clearly understand how OKRs could benefit them. I highly recommend starting with a pilot and building a success story based on that in order to show the value of OKRs to leaders/employees. Note that it’s not about convincing, but about helping them realize it themselves. As a champion, you will know you are successful when teams try to convince you to prioritise them over the others and help their team implement/use OKRs (not the other way around!).
Brad Dunn, Chief Product Officer & OKR book Author
Take them on tours. Get them to meet other more successful companies who use it. I’ve found this is both the most effective and efficient way to sell new concepts which are normal in the industry to CEOs and other executives who might have been left behind in terms of common ways of working. It’s also a more objective way to help the CEO ask questions in a place that doesn’t feel so bias.
Mark Richard, OKR Coach
Take a poll to see how many people can name the company’s top 3 priorities in any period.
Khalil Medina, CEO & OKR Coach
Using OKRs and having results. The person has to be an example first.
Interested in hearing more from our OKR experts? You can see the full expert-led OKR series here.