SupportingLines is the evolution of OKR goal planning

OKR planning is a method developed by Andy Grove, CEO at Intel during the 1970s and made famous by companies like Google and LinkedIn due to the OKR evangelism of legendary venture capitalist John Doerr.

OKR is an acronym for Objectives and Key Results. Recognized by tech companies as a gold standard planning method, OKRs are an effective way to set targets and align organizations in any sector. That said, in using the model myself at Mobify it became apparent that there was room for the model to evolve.

OKRs were conceived by Grove in 1971. They improved upon the Management By Objectives (MBOs) approach developed by Peter Drucker in the 1950s. According to John Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters, there are several key distinctions between OKRs and MBOs:

  • OKRs decouple goals from compensation. MBOs were tied to compensation which created interesting behaviour and sandbagging.
  • OKRs are visible across the organization. MBOs were individual goals shared between an employee and their manager.
  • OKRs are dynamic. We have all experienced the “set it and forget it” method of planning, as Doerr calls it. OKRs are a dynamic ongoing system vs static goals.

It worked. One of the most dramatic examples of the power of OKRs is Intel’s Operation Crush. As Doerr relates in his book, this operation saw Intel respond in a matter of months to an existential threat. OKRs were the backbone of a complete go-to-market reset involving thousands of employees. Without OKRs the pivot would have been impossible. OKRs helped Intel avoid a collapse and instead achieve market dominance.

In my experience, and also throughout Doerr’s book, OKRs can be difficult to implement.  Many organizations struggle to ensure that inter-dependencies across teams and functional silos are visible, understood and agreed. That is where SupportingLines come in. SupportingLines help OKRs empower cross-functional teams.

The evolution of OKRs

One of my favourite quotes is from Zen master Shunryu Suzuki: each of you is perfect the way you are … and, you can use a little improvement.” After almost 50 years OKRs, while perfect, could use a little improvement.

A SupportingLine is a commitment between two people:

  • Key Result owner: the KR owner identifies the critical dependencies for them to achieve the Key Result. Who around your organization will you depend on to deliver the KR? What help do you need?
  • Direct support: The KR owner has identified this person as a “direct support”, or a person who is critical to delivering the KR. Without their help the KR will not be achieved.

The ‘Direct Support’ agrees to provide a specific, timely scope of support to the KR owner. This commitment is called a SupportingLine. The SupportingLines model is game-changing. It offers a sophisticated, effective way for people to articulate the support they need to hit their goals and a framework to mutually agree the support commitment. 

The integration of OKRs + SupportingLines (OKR+S) truly unlocks the power of OKRs and increases the likelihood that the goal will actually be accomplished.

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