The 3 Essential Skill-Sets for OKR Masters

April 25, 2023 • Dr. Paul Weber

Poorly trained OKR masters create poor results, but well-trained masters lead their teams to the top. Here are the 3 essential skill-sets every OKR responsible should own.

Most people think detailed method knowledge is sufficient. How to define OKR, what events are recommended, and so on. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Because OKR masters have a much deeper responsibility than explaining a method. Providing a structure the team can work with, facilitating discussions to enable wise decisions, and creating an atmosphere where everyone can thrive is impossible with OKR know-how only.

From my own journey, I learned that exceptional knowledge in three areas is key to making OKR a success:

  • Details of the OKR method and differences to other execution frameworks
  • Entrepreneurial mindset and rapid business development techniques
  • Typical flaws of human thinking that prevent learning and effective communication

Take this overview as a starting point for broadening your skill-set to professionally guide a team through an OKR introduction and the first cycles.

Details of the OKR method and differences to other execution frameworks

Knowing everything about OKR is the absolute minimum requirement. Differences between objectives and key results, output and outcome, leading and lagging are all nice but only theoretical knowledge that won’t help a team to make progress in practice. This is because knowledge, in general, is useless without a direct relevance to the current situation.

Why do we need all the OKR features? This is the most prevalent question in the heads of the team when you introduce OKR.

Answers and reasons are always outside the theory. In the case of OKR, it’s a must to study the history of the framework. When was it developed? What were the challenges at work at that time? How did work change over the years and why?

Understanding the method in the context of society, technology, and business is crucial to make sense of it and giving your team broader application knowledge. Draw the connections to your own situation and bring the framework to life. Otherwise, it’s all dead academical theory that no one will care about.

As you need to paint a bigger picture than just OKR, make sure you also know a great deal about other methods for streamlining execution, like management by objectives, balanced scorecards, Scrum, Kanban, and also newer approaches. Each method has its pros and cons, and only understanding the mix will enable you to make the best possible choice for your teams.

The one who memorizes the theory passes the test, but the one with understanding earns success.

Entrepreneurial mindset and rapid business development techniques

Innovation and creation are the name of the game. Rapidly evolving technologies, sharp competitors that are quick to learn, and ever-increasing customer requirements are the massive factors that force us to become better, faster, stronger. Your company can only survive if you master the challenge to continuously innovate, develop, and adapt.

This is why you have to tie OKR into the concepts from entrepreneurship and use OKR to grow the business in an organized and structured way.

OKR masters worth their money guide their teams through elements of design thinking, to cover different angles and facilitate customer problem identification and solution creation. They understand lean concepts to avoid waste and are skilled in shaping the perspectives of the team, to focus on what matters for the business rather than building what is liked by internal engineers or stakeholders.

Though you might not be aware of it, OKR masters have a key role in decision-making. By the way how they facilitate and what knowledge they bring to the table, they have a major impact on the roadmap. Be sure that you are prepared from a business perspective, such that you don’t block your team with rigid thinking but widen their perspectives to profitable progress.

Typical flaws of human thinking that prevent learning and effective communication

Do we act rationally? Most of us would claim to think logically and make sound decisions — but this self-diagnosis is plainly wrong. Thanks to the groundbreaking insights of Daniel Kahnemann and Vernon Smith we know for 30 years that more often than not we act irrationally.

Our decisions are driven by a myriad of conscious and subconscious factors we are not aware of, but our brains excel in making us believe that we understood it, know it all, and make the best possible decision — even if we don’t have a clue.

While this is a catastrophe for making decisions individually, for a team the situation is even worse.

We fail to communicate correctly because we cannot articulate ourselves with sufficient clarity. In 90% of our conversations, we lose details and nuances, such that the other gets a wrong picture about what we actually wanted to say. Combined with our hypothesis to be rational and our expectation that the other should understand “the facts”, this blinds us to the deeper mechanisms that are responsible for making a team commit to OKR or not.

And so we fail to trigger the right discussions because we are unaware of what needs to happen in our minds to be able to have this kind of reflective interaction.

When you introduce OKR and work with your team on common goal setting, arm yourself and be prepared that you need much more than core OKR theory.

Modern business with humans on the team is a difficult playing ground to master. Progress and success to those, who look at it holistically and understand to truly open up and engage their team.

If you want to get the necessary input and practical tools to truly enable your team, feel free to subscribe to the newsletter. It gets you up to speed in no time.

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