OKRs are widely recognized as a framework to enable higher performance on the job. We see it first of all as one of themost promising weapons in the fight against stress and burnout. As if that weren’t enough, the tool will also result in the quality of your work improving.
At the beginning of the workshops of an OKR implementation we usually ask the participants if they think they are " juggling too many balls in the air" or if they simply feel overwhelmed. On average, 70-80% of the participants answer this question with “Yes." Frightening, right?. Even an ambitious job should not be keeping the body in a constant state of alarm or perma-stress! In this context it is even more astonishing to observe, that new topics are rather being added throughout the workshops than taken of the already full agenda. The “Not Now List” of topics that are put back, usually remain empty.
Among the most common causes of stress or excessive mental demand in everyday work life are the following:
Taking too much on oneself
An unrealistic assessment of the resources that will be required to achieve a set target
Adding new (even if exciting) tasks which then become goals – without increasing the amount of resources required or without removing other competing goals
An unstructured and spontaneous or reactive way of working (including by colleagues, employees, or superiors)
Unrealistic targets, (eg. shareholders’ expectations on return)
Most of the companies we support with our modern perspective on leadership, see the main reasons for continuous overload ina lack of transparency due to insufficient communication. We agree the connection is certainly there, but these are only symptoms of a deeper root cause.
Based on our experience, we believe the most probable and critical reason is a lack of decision-making.
This can be referring to one's own decisions regarding the use of one's own resources. It can also refer to management-level decisions which are notresulting in focus. Instead, management continues to try to serve all fronts equally. If you hear, phrases like "following one option while simultaneously following another one" in any goal-discussion, you should find your way out of it as quickly as possible.
If a lack of decision-making is indeed the reason for an overwhelmed team or entire organization, the implementation of a method such as OKR will make this obvious very soon. A closer inspection of this common phenomenon will reveal a very human fear. A decision to allocate scarce resources towards one task simultaneously includes the decision notto allocate resources to another topic. Within this lies the fear of making a wrong decision and thereby the potential of missing a good opportunity. We believe these kinds of scenarios warrant a reminder of the following: in life you will most likely have more chances that you cannot take advantage of than chances you can. What’s important is to conscientiously and systematically increase the probability to follow the right alternative.
In general, it is difficult to make such a decision when you don’t know what effect it will have. This is in large part due to the fact that most decisions are made based on gut rather than solid evidence. Strategic discussions are often based on the accumulated gut feeling of a minority rather than on data or facts. Of course, even with significantly more conscientiousness and effort, many decisions simply cannot be made on a “scientific” basis with strictly valid evidence. Yet, we do see a difference in critical decision-making in teams that have been working with OKRs for a longer time. Their thinking models are changing in the direction to include formulating and testing hypotheses with a continuous attempt to validate and optimise their results. The discussion thus shifts from opinions to informed assumptions, increasing the likelihood of making the right choice.
A good salesman [IvP1] follows the principle of never closing a door. In concrete terms, this means that you should never turn down an opportunity for good if it may become helpful or even necessary at a later time. The fear of closing doors like this is taken away in the OKR method: decisions are never made for or against a possible option, rather one decides between "now" and "not now." To reiterate, for each option the possibility remains that it can be readdressed at a later point in time - or not.
What other benefits do OKRs provide in the battle against stress at work?
Through the prioritisation and clear formulation of expected target values for the output and the corresponding resulting outcome, it’s ensured that the most important factors are being focused on.
Planning becomes much more realistic as the planned timespan is limited to a foreseeable period of three months.
There is clarity about what’s expected of your own performance and that of others, which provides an open understanding for the expectations of your supervisor, your employees, or your colleagues.
By focusing on goals and results instead of tasks and measures, the need for micromanagement is significantly reduced.
A reduction in perceived expectations to deliver results to various other stakeholder groups. Demands or requests from other groups can be declined in a fully transparent, comprehensible, and binding manner.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to convince your own team or the entire organization of the advantages of OKRs right away, so that the full potential of OKRs does not unfold straight away. Regardless, there are still many benefits on the individual level of the organization:
A clear focus on what you want to achieve yourself.
The peace of mind to work on the most important things: finding a certain calmness in relation to the seemingly infinite other opportunities which arise again and again.
A feeling of satisfaction when you fulfill the clearly formulated expectations and are no longer having to measure your performance against constantly changing goals and expectations.
An easy approach to classifying daily new tasks or topics.
The following five steps can help to reduce the feeling of overwork and help you to understand whether OKRs could help you or even your whole team, to reach your goals in a more relaxed way:
Formulate an OKR set for your own work for the next three months. The exercise of simply formulating concrete results and their uses will often already reveal small epiphanies.
Read through the OKR set daily, thus keeping an eye on what you actually want to achieve.
Define your own to-do list according to the structure of the OKRs. If a task cannot be assigned to a key result, you have yourself a good indicator that you might not need to tackle this task (at least not right now).
On a weekly basis, define which tasks need to be accomplished this week in order to accomplish the key results.
At the end of the week, write a reflection to explain what went well, what didn’t, and how to do things better next time.
Our OKR page provides a good starting point, if you want to learn more about OKRs. Our OKR Online Course shows you the whole world of OKRs and of course, we are always happy to have a quick chat and to discuss your individual challanges.
We hope this article provided you with a helpful introduction to a slightly different perspective of tackling stress at work. If you have any questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact us and feel free to comment below this blog.