Why do so many businesses fail at embedding OKR?
People in the business don’t like to collaborate and are too afraid to hold peers accountable.
But this isn’t a problem with OKR itself. And it’s not a problem with the people! It’s a problem of culture. Most corporates simply do not encourage this type of activity. The art of making this happen is fundamentally about creating a psychologically safe environment where leaders can show some vulnerability.
What is the mid-cycle review?
The mid-cycle review gives the team a safe space to deeply review how they’re progressing on their OKR. Unsurprisingly, this ceremony is held once per OKR cycle at the halfway point. This is typically 6 weeks in. In the session, we consider the outcome that we’re trying to achieve, showcase the work done to date and validate with data.
As Matt Lowth, the Chief Information Officer of MLC Life Insurance put it, the mid-cycle review is a “Pressure test of progress”. This is where the mid-cycle review comes into its own. We’re able to hold ourselves accountable and solve problems as a team. The mid-cycle review acts as a bearing checkpoint, ensuring we’re still on course.
Done mid-way through a cycle, it means we’ve had enough time to make some progress. It also gives us just enough time to course correct the ship.
Why do we need a mid-cycle review?
Maintaining outcome-based execution in a multi-team environment is hard. It’s easy to talk about what we’re going to do, and who’s going to do it. What’s not so easy is keeping teams focused on what the impact of their work should be.
This brings us to the 3 key challenges of outcome-based execution, and how the mid-cycle review helps:
- Maintaining outcome focus: People tend to focus on their to-do list. This is fine, as it’s tangible and actionable. The issue is, we run the risk of losing sight of the why behind it. If we’re not clear on the why then we run the risk of just “tick boxing” our work. The goal becomes completing the work, rather than making an outcome. The mid-cycle review intends to make sure we’re clear on why we’re doing this OKR. Being clear on who it is helping and what needs to be different to consider the goal achievement a success.
- Aligning on outcomes: When you’re anything larger than a small start-up, alignment becomes your major challenge. This largely comes down to the nature of teams focusing on what they can immediately influence. This creates silos where they sub-optimise the work to make their lives easier, possibly at the expense of effective execution across the business. In reality, most material outcomes require teams to work together. They’ll need to collaborate on a set of activities to drive a specific outcome. The mid-cycle review provides a good reflection point to validate teams are working together to drive an outcome. It doesn’t replace effective dependency management, but it does help us join the dots across the business.
- Outcome confidence: Given all of the activities we have underway, are we sure we’re going to achieve or surpass this outcome? The reality is ideas are cheap, but the execution is everything. So the ideas we had to achieve our outcome at the start of the quarter may have sounded great at the time. That’s all for naught if we haven’t driven any meaningful outcomes. The mid-cycle review provides an opportunity for us to pause and think deeply about this.
Underpinning these points is accountability. It’s almost like a naughty word nowadays, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s as much about holding ourselves accountable as it is holding our peers accountable. The mid-cycle review is the perfect time to discuss with each other how we are going. If we’re not making the progress we hoped for, then why not?
Remember we need to facilitate accountability in a psychologically safe manner. It’s about validating our progress because we care!
Who’s involved in the mid-cycle review?
In practice, we find executive teams get the most value out of this session. Here’s why.
Teams working on an OKR who are hosting a weekly confidence score will already be having good robust discussions about their OKR. They’ll have first-hand data and be experimenting on what needs to be done to achieve the OKR. This means the discussion is a lot more continuous at the team level. That is not to say teams shouldn’t do the review, just make sure there is a need first!
While executive teams should be doing a weekly confidence score, they face different challenges due to data and action proximity. Generally, they rely on other teams to execute and probably can’t test and learn at the same pace as frontline teams. Another challenge is the Key Results they work with require activities from many teams to influence an outcome. The executive team needs to be joining the dots to identify where teams may not be collaborating enough or the business has lost sight of the intent behind an Objective or Key Result.
To make mid-cycle review successful, you will want to include more people than just the executive team. The mid-cycle review is an incredible opportunity to get key stakeholders from across the business involved in the strategic execution of the business. These additional stakeholders will provide valuable inputs (including real data) and examples of the work done to date. Remember, it’s not just their job to bring this in, but they can certainly contribute many insights.
How do we prepare?
In the 2 weeks leading up to your mid-cycle review, you’ll want to be on top of the following:
- Invitees – Determine which stakeholders need to be present to provide an update, help make decisions or to be kept informed. This may include people beyond the immediate team.
- Send the invite – Make sure attendees have the invite in their calendar well in advance, ensure they are prepared with the following.
- Prepare data – Key Result leads collate and prepare any data they have to validate progress, which may be supported by (but not replaced with) a showcase of what’s been done to date.
- Identify blockers – Consider what is holding you back from delivering an even greater outcome and who in the team or business can help you address this.
- OKR Status Updated – Ensure your OKR has been updated with all relevant progress commentary captured.
What’s the agenda?
The following is a proposed agenda, but make sure you adjust it to suit your needs! The key point is when you’re running the session, make sure you stick to time. You’re not going to solve everything in this session, so park topics quickly for future follow-up.
- Introduction – 5 minutes
- Review data – Review substantiated data for each Key Result + confidence vote – 20 minutes
- Action plan – Steps needed to maximise outcomes, identify dependencies, and park items for action in the future – 20 minutes
- Catch all – Ensure everyone has had a chance to raise key issues by discussing “What are we missing?” – 10 minutes
- Close & celebrate – What are the actions, decisions, and communications? Remember to reflect on and capture the big achievements so far! – 5 minutes
What happens after?
Once you’ve completed your mid-cycle review, it’s time to follow up on any outstanding items and make sure you’ve captured any insights and notes for the future.
- Share all data and other insights from the session with interested stakeholders
- Follow up actions for completion within a week
- Communicate to teams where greater collaboration might be needed to achieve an outcome
- Ensure all ideas for the next cycle are captured