How to Achieve a Faster and Better OKR Implementation

Implementing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is tough, as they are the convergence of corporate strategy, personal ego, and a healthy mix of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, so take it in small steps.

Implementing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is tough, as they are the convergence of corporate strategy, personal ego, and a healthy mix of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Across hundreds of organizations going through an OKR framework journey, we have found most organizations can codify their strategy, cascade it to meaningful company level Objectives and find reasonable Key Results - what derails them is the organization's culture/motivation and OKR-related capabilities.

We have found using BJ Fogg's behavior model provides a great tool to assess and correct these components.

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The fastest, Cheapest, Best – and easiest path to OKR success is through motivating, educating, and triggering OKRs in the entire company.

Solving the Problem

So, to cut a long story short, your strategies are straightforward:

The BJ Fogg Behavior Model

The underlying logic to this article comes from the insightful work of BJ Fogg and his Behavior Model.

The Fogg Behavior Model (FBM) highlights three principal elements as the drivers of behavior: Motivation, Ability, and Prompt. He talks about "Prompts" as efforts to encourage individual and team OKR success.

This framework has been widely applied and proven to be valid in multiple situations outside of OKRs - but we have gained a good amount of experience in the OKR methodology and have been very pleased with the insightful and dynamic thinking it provides.

What Causes Behavior Change Around Objectives and Key Results

Here are four things you can notice right away about the Fogg Behavior Model from looking at the graph:

a)    As a person’s motivation and ability to implement OKRs increases, the more likely it is that they will use OKRs.

b)   There’s an inverse relationship between motivation and ability. The easier it is to implement OKRs  (Objectives and Key Results), the less motivation is needed to use them. On the other hand, the harder they are to implement, the more motivation is needed.

c)    The action line—the green curved line—lets you know that any behavior above that line will take place if it’s appropriately triggered. At the same time, any behavior below the line won’t take place regardless of the trigger used. Why is that? Because if you have practically zero motivation to use OKRs, you won’t regardless of how easy it is to do. At the same time, if you’re very motivated to use OKRs, but it’s incredibly difficult to do, you’ll get frustrated and you won’t act.

d)   If you want OKRs to succeed, look for ways to boost motivation or ability (or both). In other words, aim for the top right of the model.

Prompts

So all this is fine – two-axis charts that make sense.

Now comes the tough part. To make change happen, we need a prompt – something to cause us to want to implement OKRs. In the top right corner – high motivation and high ability, we do not need much of a prompt.  As we fall off in either motivation or ability, we need a high force prompt to make the change happen.

In the OKR context, the higher the motivation, the lower ability the organization needs to succeed with OKRs. The opposite is also true: The higher the ability, the lower the motivation needed to succeed with OKRs.

We actually end up with an “action curve” that looks like this line:

In fact, it creates a “likelihood of OKR success curve”.

A prompt is best described as a call to action. A prompt could be as simple as leadership asking us to build an OKR solution. A more significant prompt could be ongoing OKR process meetings, even larger, rewards for getting the OKR system running, or accomplishing a key result, etc.  

So let’s now dig a bit deeper into OKR prompts and see why they matter in OKR implementation success.

Internal vs. External Prompts

The most important distinction to make with prompts is the difference between external and internal prompts.

External prompts are anything in your environment that tells or reminds you to do something. It could be a post-it note, a billboard, or a phone notification. It is something external nudging you to do something.

For OKRs it could be the automated reminder from your OKR software, your weekly performance reviews meeting, or an updated scorecard.

Internal prompts are any feeling or emotion that tells or reminds you to do something. Typical examples of this are feelings of hunger or thirst. It is some signal from your body nudging you to do something.

In the OKR world, it becomes your daily performance habit, your desire to see how you and your team are performing on their objectives, your need to update your team on your progress, and any key result you’ve met.

Types of External Prompts

Stanford professor BJ Fogg has identified the following three types of external prompts.

Spark: Helps when you have the ability, but not the motivation. An example of this is a reminder to go to the dentist. The reminder sparks you to get ready for the appointment, even if you are not currently motivated to go.

Facilitator: Helps motivated people who lack the ability to complete a behavior. The facilitator prompts to make the action easier or at least seem easier. A typical example of this is the instructions to help you write your OKR analysis.

Signal: Helps people who are both motivated and have the ability to complete a behavior. The primary purpose of the signal trigger is to or remind us of something we want to do. An example is a calendar reminder for your next OKR meeting.

Master the Force

When you start understanding this concept, you begin to realize that there are prompts all around us. Our alarm clock, our Facebook notifications, our inbox alerts, our hungry stomachs, and the list goes on. Hundreds of prompts gently nudge us along and shape our OKR routines.

Part of making a great trigger is understanding the context (spark, facilitator, and signal) and then determine a suitable frequency of how often the prompt should occur. The mix of prompt type and frequency is a fine art…in every instance except OKRs. In the OKR world, it is pretty easy to sort out your organization’s ability and motivation levels. From there it is a short step to sort out the best prompt and frequency.

So this is where this story ends – to make sure your OKR solution works – faster, cheaper, better, and easier, all you have to do is:

  1. Assess your organization’s OKR-motivation level,
  2. Assess your organization’s OKR-ability level, and
  3. Set the right prompt strategy.


BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model has helped organizations around the world in designing successful products, services, and projects. As humans, we always need a little motivation to get things done, but we don’t always know how to generate it. We hope this article helps you in creating the proper prompts to give your leadership team a nudge in the right direction and achieve your organizational goals. Remember that Hirebook’s software helps remote and on-site teams link their day-to-day actions to strategic organizational outcomes by implementing OKRs!

Brett Knowles

Brett Knowles is a thought leader in the Strategy Execution space for high-tech organizations. His client work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune, and many other business publications.

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