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  • Writer's picturePaul Niven

Gaining Executive Sponsorship For OKR

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

If you’re excited about the potential of OKRs to provide value to your company but don’t possess the decision rights to approve an implementation, you’ll require the support of at least one member of your senior leadership team, preferably the CEO.

Here are a few tips we’ve seen organizations use to great effect in gaining executive traction for a change initiative:

Link OKRs to something the executive is passionate about: There is little doubt that any executive is more likely to lend active and vocal support to a program that resonates with their personal passions and values. Your job is to find that hook and explain how OKRs will transform it from rhetoric to reality within the organization. Perhaps your CEO is fixed on the virtues of speed to market. You can note the swift cadence of OKRs and how they’ll allow you to move quickly, provide feedback, and promote flexibility and agility in aid of accelerating the new product development cycle.

◾Provide OKRs education: Before providing our support for any new program we must first feel it possesses legitimate value and meaning. That meaning and value are derived from a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Senior managers will follow this same path from knowledge to meaning to value and commitment, and therefore the first step is providing basic education on OKRs: Definitions, examples, benefits, and most importantly, why they should be used at your organization right now.

◾Involve executives in the OKRs implementation: Most change experts would assert that we don’t think ourselves into acting differently, but in fact, we act ourselves into thinking differently. The upshot: You’re much more likely to support something that you’re actively involved in creating because you are physically acting out the change. Therefore, we strongly suggest you ensure senior executives are part of your OKRs implementation, and the task is not delegated to a lower level team. CareerBuilder, the largest online job website in the United States, provides a great example of a company committed to executive involvement. Its CIO, Roger Fugett, participated in all three days of recent OKR drafting workshops. He recognized that his presence was critical in order to align IT with the business. The attendance of the CIO made it obvious to workshop attendees that OKRs are to be taken seriously.

The colossal benefits of a truly engaged CEO were in evidence to us in a recent client engagement. The CEO was new to the organization, and although he had performed substantial due diligence before accepting the position, he was unsure what awaited him when he actually began inhabiting the CEO post. Sure enough, things were not quite what he’d hoped. As he confided to one of us, “The floorboards were a lot looser than I expected.” Because he had used OKRs with great success at his two previous companies, one of his first actions was to institute an OKRs program from top to bottom throughout the organization. He didn’t delegate, but sat in on all the corporate-level workshops and took precious time from his schedule to later review all lower-level goals. He shared articles on the topic, spoke about it at all-hands meetings, and even communicated it to outside audiences. Needless to say, everyone witnessed his passion for the implementation and fell in behind him very quickly. It’s still early in their work, but thanks to the focus provided by OKRs, results are already beginning to show improvement.

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