OKR – Does it taste like cake or does it boil away in cabbage?

Many good cakes are eaten at workplaces in Norway. Not every day, but we often eat cake at work to mark something we’ve achieved together. But would it sometimes be better to eat cabbage? Learning is like nutrition. It may not always be the taste we want, but it makes us better.

There is always a good reason to celebrate with some cake. Fat, sugar and good flavors cause the feeling of happiness to fizz in most brains.

Full speed with OKR

The year is 2019. I work somewhere with many committed change makers We are in the middle of a restructuring process where the top management wants us to create fantastic customer experiences, create predictable financial results and build a culture that leaves a positive mark on society.

A beehive cake visualizing celebration and good taste.
Beehive cake for celebration and collaboration

Change, adjustment and growth are fun when you succeed, but can be tiring when you are in the middle of it. The managers talk about high ambitions, ambitious goals and concrete deliveries, milestones and results. There are several paths to the goal and many ways of doing things. People are generally pleasant and straightforward, but something happens to the atmosphere when the pressure and stress increase.

– We will put the strategy into practice, and we will do it together, said the committed change makers at the top. Let us show the ability to implement, then we will gain the confidence to take new steps, he continued. – We are off to a good start, but OKR can help us increase speed.

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. Briefly explained, OKR is a methodological framework that facilitates that an organization manages to keep focus on the things that are most important to success at all times. The method originates from a recognized leader in Silicon Valley, California, in the 1970s, but in recent years interest in OKR has exploded. More and more committed managers are now exploring and introducing OKR where they work.

OKR is chosen by many, because the framework fits so well with the times in which we live. OKR helps to create rapid and frequent changes in an era of market dynamics and high tempo. OKR helps drive a focused and flexible leadership in a time where employees are becoming more competent and want more freedom over their own everyday life. OKR contributes to the fact that major challenges, which require broad cooperation in society, can be broken down into meaningful goals that are worth making an effort for.

With an open mind and an exploratory attitude, we were suddenly ready to set full speed on something we wanted to succeed with: OKR. We laid out a simple three-step plan: 1) Exploring OKRs with openness and learning, 2) Achieve results with enthusiasm and 3) Increase the strategic adaptability.  We also had the well-known expressions ‘Plans are nothing, planning is everything’ and ‘Fail fast, learn fast’ in mind. So we quickly set about preparing the organization for the meeting with OKR.

– Many people experience the strategy and expectations from the management as something big, tiring and scary. What can we do to create a good atmosphere?, asked a colleague.
– Let’s celebrate along the way, with cake, replied a colleague.
– Yes, but we have ambitious goals, so it probably won’t just be a celebration, countered the colleague.  
– Yes, we will fail, and it will give us a lot of learning to take completely new steps. Let’s plan for full openness, honesty and visibility, but also laughter and playfulness!

– Learning is like nutrition. It may not always be the taste we want, but it makes us better. Maybe we should not only celebrate with cake, but also with cabbage?

This was how the new strategic learning arena was set up; Cake or Cabbage Party.

Kale is a star among the cabbage varieties, if we look at the nutritional content. Full of fibre, minerals and vitamins. It is very hardy and goes well in many hot and cold dishes. 

Cake or Cabbage Party!

Anyone who has worked in large organizations knows that planning strategies can be demanding, and that implementation is usually even more demanding. It is easy to have ambitions and describe nice goals, but the results do not come by themselves. Where did cake and cabbage fit into this challenge?

For us, OKRs were the most important changes we wanted to achieve each quarter. They did not replace the hundreds of key performance indicators (KPIs) that were measured and followed up on an ongoing basis. Those were the changes that needed some extraordinary effort. Here is one of the messages that was communicated:  – We are not going to clean the house or watch the electricity consumption, as we do all the time. We are going to refurbish, and then we need many talented people to put in a little extra.

The management group was responsible for the overall strategy and decided the most important changes for the next quarter. Then, with great openness, they invited the employees to get involved in the goals and the concrete results we had to achieve in order to reach the goal. The Cake or Cabbage Party was designated as the arena where the last goals were to be celebrated and the next goals presented, once a quarter. Everyone was invited and encouraged to engage in the open strategy process with playfulness, laughter and learning.

Those change makers who were responsible for a goal had to get going quickly and lead through the quarter. They had to involve contributors, motivate efforts, create interaction, coordinate resources and keep those around them updated on developments. Every other week, the change maker received extra attention in the all staff meeting, where both the usual key figures and the extraordinary OKRs were reviewed. Then the change maker could show how the results had developed since the last time, and use the opportunity to give praise or encourage extra effort.

Then, at the end of the quarter, it was time to count up. In Cake or Cabbage Party. Each goal had to be reviewed. Have the specific key results taken us all the way? Now the time had come. Does the change maker get to eat cake or will it be cabbage? With great openness, the change maker briefed the rest of the organization. The development for each of the real numbers (key results) was reviewed for the general public. At the same time, the change maker shared experiences and recommended improvements for the development going forward. Learning and nutrition for all. Afterwards, it was the people’s jury or referendum that decided whether one deserved cake or cabbage.

The change maker knew that cake or cabbage had to be eaten in front of the rest of the organization in the Cake or Cabbage Party. Cabbage! It felt unusual and a little scary at first, but everyone quickly saw the symbolic link between business and learning. When the change maker ate cake, there were cheers and praise for everyone who had contributed. When there was trouble, the smiles and laughter came as an expression of the openness and learning in which everyone got involved. Then the organization stood there, united, a little happier and much wiser for the next most important goals that lay before us.

So what?

In a phase where the strategy was to become more open, and the internal interaction was to become more enthusiastic, the Cake or Cabbage Party was a new and humorous tool that took the organization a few important steps forward. There was greater transparency. There was laughter. There was a focus on results, with a high degree of learning. Despite a lot of trial and error, the strategic execution power and ability to adapt improved noticeably over the next 7 quarters.

Cake or Cabbage Party a good story. A story for inspiration and reflection, which other committed change makers can copy, refine and implement if they wish.

It’s an idea well worth stealing and sharing. Start. Full speed!

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