Part 1 of OKR-misconceptions Series: Being treated as a Task Management Tool

“Some work done between 2 teams are interlinked. Until one team finishes their task, the other team cannot start theirs. How will this be taken care of in OKRs? ”

This is one of the most common questions we get asked by most OKRs first-timers as well as a few experienced folks.

But, is this the right thing to ask? Should OKRs be monitoring such minute task interlinkages?

The answer is no. Why you may ask?

By definition, OKRs talk about objectives that are defined by their Key Results. There is no talk about tasks here. But, then your counter questions can be –

  • What exactly is an objective and how is it different from a regular task? 
  • How does one identify that X is a task, Y is an objective?
  • Even more so, where do key results fit in? Even tasks will have key results, after all.
  • Finally, at the end of the day, all of these are linked to the work that an employee does. Work is work that needs to be completed. Why do we need more words to describe and complicate?

Well, to begin with, Objectives are inspirational goals that the organization wants to move towards at a given point in time. It describes a future state that represents the intended achievement within a period of time.

On, the other hand tasks are activities that need to be completed on a regular basis in order to achieve the objectives.

Unlike objectives that show whether an organization is moving in the right direction and on a path of success, tasks are simply meant to be performed. They do not represent any such intricacies.

For example – The objective of the Sales Team of a product company can be to Increase Sales five folds by the end of 2022.

Corresponding tasks that must be done daily to achieve these objectives can be, for example,

  • coordinating daily with the marketing team for feedback and collaterals, 
  • making atleast 60 lead calls daily, 
  • follow up with existing leads and so on.

Each task can be broken down into chunks of tasks that are basically the key results of these tasks, for example, the first task mentioned above can be broken into the following sub-tasks:

  • Share feedback on the calls with the marketing team.
  • Marketing plans and initiatives to be put into place to improve the target and the leads attracted.
  • Based on these initiatives and researches, the research team generate leads and the marketing team generates collaterals.
  • These are then shared with the sales team, who again repeats the same.

Unlike the key results of the tasks, the Key Results of the objectives does not focus on the continuous activities, instead, they focus on measuring whether the organization is moving in a correct path. These are basically the measurable guidelines that ensure the movement towards the greater goal, that is, the objectives.

So, each key result set for the objective will have a deadline for its completion and can be measured in binary terms that is whether it was achieved or not within that due date.

To help clarify here’s a simple example of a few key results that can be set for the above-mentioned objectives:

  • Demos – increase by 80% by August 2022.
  • Launch Email Marketing campaign by March 2022
  • Increase contract value by 60% by July 2022
  • Onboard 40 new partners Globally by September 2022
  • Launch 2 marketing campaigns in the USA by June 2022.

A task can be interlinked with other teams, so the performance of a task can depend on how effectively and efficiently the other team is completing theirs but objectives are team-based and are independent of such linkages as they do not represent activities rathe represent results.

So, if someone is expecting their OKRs tool to be able to capture the tasks then they should probably re-evaluate their decision. In such a scenario, to capture such interlinkages, a task management tool is needed to align these task breakdowns.

The reason for making a clear distinction between tasks, OKRs and Key Results is important because tasks alone are directionless. So, even though it is the work that the employee is doing, without an objective in the first place, they will have no way to understand what needs to be done.

Sales personnel can keep on making calls to their potential leads without contributing anything to the business.

When objectives are set, the entire department gets a clear view of where the company wants to reach in a given period of time. And what will be the measurable indicators for the objectives and how the tasks can be aligned to contribute to achieving the indicators and ultimately the greater goal. It must be very clear to the leaders that all the work that they are doing, is to be able to take the organization to the next level, so from the key results to the last chunk of work everything should be aligned and contribute to helping the organization reach that level.

For instance, making daily 60 calls to the potential leads with push the employees to contribute more towards the key results of onboarding 40 global partners by September 2022 who will, in turn, connect the company to more business opportunities and ultimately contributing to increasing sales 5 folds by the end of 2022  which was the ultimate objective.

Thus, to spread the true approach of OKRs across teams, the leaders themselves must have clarity on the concept well, otherwise, a misinformed preacher can make matters worse.

In conclusion, if an organization is planning to manage the tasks of their employees to the minutest of level then OKRs isn’t the tool for them but if they are trying to achieve their goals beyond the targetted level then only they should use their resources to implement OKRs and undergo a thorough professional analysis before doing so to determine their fitment with the approach.

Let us know, what are your thoughts on OKRs being treated as a task management too?

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