How we set objectives can lead us to greatness
This past week, the Ascent team reached an important milestone – setting our latest quarterly Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). That may not seem much at a glance, yet I found the process particularly valuable, here’s why:
Measuring whether a strategy is delivering its intended outcomes is not the easiest of tasks. Implementation, after all, requires us to test our ideas, our thesis of how things will unfold and why, and where what differentiates us would show up most. It brings in messy realities that strategy definition are often shielded from. And while there are quite a few strategy measurement methods and tools out there, we were looking for one that speaks to our core principles – that is focused on growth, that is transformative rather than incremental and that demands of us to confront the less-than-comfortable discussions around ‘Have we delivered the kind of impact we aspire to’?
Traditional strategy measurement frameworks are often bent into measuring what evolves rather than what transforms. They become part of an in-adaptive system and a drain on the strategic resources who were to help shift the organisation. In fact, in a recent survey, we found that over 50% of time spent by strategy, transformation and innovation managers, ends-up in less valuable activities than they came in to perform. We in fact ‘bent’ them into the slow path of evolution rather than allow them to transform us, as an organisation.
And so, as we translated our aspirations into clear, super-focused outcomes, that each and every person in our organisation can draw clarity and motivation from, I came to realise three things:
- Our vision, in uncertain times, matters more than ever. As we looked at what is truly worthy of achieving, what is worth striving for in the coming months, we kept focusing on the why. The vision was there to remind us why stretching towards is preferable to staying within our lane. Opportunities wait for no-one, and the path beyond the pandemic is leaving no industry resting in the belief that its fundamentals remain intact.
- Bringing a bold vision with clear and specific outcomes, to be attained in a few months, created tension, and such tension is a healthy one, as it compelled us to craft a narrative in our minds (and hearts), as to how we achieve our vision and what the pathway might have in store. It became a story not just about us. The role of our partners and global associates came up, and we saw how together we could achieve what individually was out of reach. And while this narrative is about the future – still to be tested, it struck me as authentic, a story of creative problem solving. It became a story about our ecosystem, rather than just us.
- The OKR framework has been at the centre of our ability to bring strategy to life. When faced with the need to define measurable outcomes rather than activities, when faced with the decision to be radically transparent and share our goals openly with others (and seeing how openly they were willing to participate), the rigor of this measurement system becomes even more apparent. It allows us to apply learnings ‘from the field’ back into the strategy, at speed.
The OKR process can be uncomfortable – it often brings us back to principle-based discussions. But in all, it keeps us focused on the key (and often hidden) levers of execution, that ones that matter most.
Have a good weekend everyone!
Saar Ben-Attar (Chief Instigator)
Perspectives on Impact: this wonderful book brings together leading voices from across sectors to discuss how we must adapt our organizations for the twenty-first century world. It looks at the shifting role of the corporation in society through the lens of purpose. Exquisitely put togetherare
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This Monday, 22 February, a very special edition of our podcast series becomes available. We discuss our innovative Internship programme – you can hear from our interns themselves, learn how the programme came into being and why, now more than ever, creating new opportunities for the youth matters most. This is followed on 8 March by my conversation with Roger Longden, global associate and a true expert in setting objectives. Join us then for a fascinating discussion on how leadership culture determines how far we are willing to set our goals and whether we are able to transform our organisations, for the future.
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