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The Real Intent Of OKRs – It’s About Purpose (with Nolan Hout from Unlock OKR)

In this episode, Tim is joined by Nolan Hout, the Vice President of Marketing at Unlock OKR. Listen as they walk us through the real intent of OKRs. And no, they’re not just something that we use to plan out our task lists. They’re meant to provide us purpose, direction, performance, and accountability.

Interview Highlights

  • Nolan is a unicorn marketer. He’s been the head of marketing for a company called Infopro Learning, whose real focus is trying to transform people with the idea of transforming business. [0:57]
  • Nolan used to think that being a leader was his way of doing things, which was for him personally about inspiring people. [3:44]

“A good leader should inspire people. And their way of doing that should inspire those other people to do good work.” — Nolan Hout

  • The real core thing of a leader boils down to integrity. If you’re going to lead a group of people, you need to have a lot of integrity. You need to be above reproach. You need to carry a lot of weight with what you speak to. [4:50]

If you don’t have integrity as a leader, it’s hard to get a lot of people behind you.” — Nolan Hout

  • Tim recommends a book called Genuine Kindness by Thomas Giles. [7:11]
  • Nolan has been at the same company for over a decade. They’re in the corporate training landscape, and a lot of what they do boils down to corporate training. [7:57]

Building a better world of work is about finding a job that gives people meaning and purpose in their work.” — Nolan Hout

When we say build a better world of work, I think it’s giving people that inspiration and that motivation through giving them a purpose for their work.” — Nolan Hout

  • OKRs stand for Objectives and Key Results. Objective is simply “what do you want to accomplish?” And then key result is “how do you know you’ve accomplished it?” [12:58]
  • For Nolan, the biggest thing with an objective is, it should be inspiring and the key result has to be measurable. [14:23]
  • With an OKR, you can see how your 5% on your landing page is helping generate $9 million in marketing source revenue. [23:56]

I think that’s the big beauty of an OKR, it ensures that the purpose of the organization can also fulfill the purpose of the individual.”
— Nolan Hout

  • Half of any good OKR implementation is actually writing a good objective and writing a good key result. The other half, or maybe 75% of it is ‘what happens next?’ And that’s the other beauty of OKRs—they’re meant to be updated almost weekly. [25:35]
  • Another big beauty of the OKR is the systematic way in which you go through weekly updates and check-ins. [27:12]
  • The other thing that Nolan really loves about OKRs is, it’s a manager’s best friend, because it gives them an evaluation tool for their employees that is both meaningful for them and meaningful for their employee. [27:49]
  • Do not believe that there is a perfect way to do OKRs. Do not believe that to do a true OKR, it has to be an ambitious and audacious goal. Don’t believe that you can’t do performance evaluations in OKRs. Go into it and have OKRs work for you. Just get started and have it worked for your organization. [36:24]
  • Unlock OKR has been designed to try to help people implement OKRs in a meaningful way. At their platform, you cannot write a key result that isn’t measurable. It will not let you proceed unless you have put in a dollar, a percentage, a number. So, the tools are there to actually help you leverage the benefits of the OKRs. [38:16]

Meet Our Guest

Nolan Hout is the Vice President of Marketing at Unlock OKR, specializing in B2B markets. Having transitioned from a successful sales role, he has great perspective when Marketing to the corporate world because he knows what the sales people need most to close deals.

Nolan has been fortunate enough to work in just about every avenue of marketing at this point. Although most of his job is marketing strategy focused, there is nothing he enjoys more than getting his hands dirty in creating collateral to be used in Marketing campaigns, such as marketing videos, infographics, ad copies, animations, etc.

nolan hout headshot

Our core goal is to transform people to make them better at their work.”
— Nolan Hout

Read the Transcript:

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Nolan Hout

Do not believe that there is a perfect way to do OKRs. Do not believe that to do a true OKR, it has to be an ambitious and audacious goal. Don’t believe that you can’t do performance evaluations in OKRs. Go into it and have OKRs work for you. Just get started and have it work for your organization. The more you read, the more you learn. You’ll figure out what works for you.

Tim Reitsma

Welcome to the People Managing People podcast. We’re on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you build happy, productive workplaces. I’m your host, Tim Reitsma. And today on the show, Nolan Hout, VP of Marketing at Unlock OKR, will walk us through the real intent of OKRs. And no, they’re not just for something that we used to plan out or task lists. They’re meant to provide us purpose, direction, performance, and accountability. So stay tuned.

Welcome to the People Managing People podcast, Nolan. It is so great to have you on the show to talk about OKRs, what they are, what their purpose is, and you know, why do we even need OKR? So, welcome to the show. 

Nolan Hout

Thanks, Tim. Pleasure to be here. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Before we get into it, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about who you are? What you’re up to these days?

Nolan Hout

Yeah. You I think I’m the unicorn marketer. I think for, as I’ve been marketing, I head up marketing for a company called Infopro Learning, whose you know, whose real focus is trying to transform people with the idea of transforming business. You know, we believe that word transformation gets thrown out a lot and a lot of times associated to like, you know, we transform your business, transform your digital, but in the day, it’s really all about your people.

And so for us that’s our core goal is to transform people to make them better, better at their work. And I mentioned I’m a unicorn because I’ve been in this company for 11 years. I don’t know, but another marketer who’s been here for 11 or for any company for 11 years and let alone another marketer who started in sales.

So I’ve, you know, really seen the whole side of the whole revenue arm, I guess, within a company. So fortunately it helps me a lot when I get those excuses from sales about, oh, well, these aren’t really good leads. I can say, I would’ve killed for this lead. Like you don’t need to tell me about that. And yeah, I just re, you know, I’m one of the, I’m one of, I’m a statistic, I guess. 

I lived in the city of Seattle and then COVID hit and I moved back to a small hometown quarterly in Idaho. So, very much a statistic, I guess, these days. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, just the embracing the full remote or hybrid culture. I know you’re saying just before we hit the record button, like you’re, you’re in the small town in the country, building a woodshed, but you also have co-working space.

So, you kind of playing in both of those worlds and that’s awesome. 

Nolan Hout

Yeah. You know, a town of 50,000 people that has four co-working spaces is kind of fascinating. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, it’s I’m sure the population chart or growth chart is a, is exponentially growing. And that’s what we’ve seen. But you know, before we get into it and you know, we’re going to talk a lot about OKR. So I’ve, you know, we’ve heard the acronym. If you haven’t heard the acronym, we’re going to get into it and what the real intent is. 

But I always like to ask my guests two questions. And I say sometimes, you know, maybe just for selfish reasons, I ask these two questions, cause I’m fascinated by it.

In your opinion, in your mind, what does it mean to be a leader?

Nolan Hout

Yeah, this is such a great question. And I would assume, you know, when I didn’t realize that there was other ways to be a leader until I started learning more about leadership itself and you take, you know, others all be assessments, and this is a lot of what our company does as well. And so I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end.

And so, you know, I always used to think being a leader was kind of my way of doing things, which was for me personally, it’s about inspiring people. That’s what I think a good leader should do, which should they, they should inspire people. And their way of doing that should inspire those other people to do good work.

Now, how you inspire people? Obviously there’s lots of different ways to do that. You know, you give them, you trust in them. You give them motivation, you give them money. You let them move to Idaho if they want. So for me, it’s always been about that inspiration, but, you know what I’ve come to see and as you know, you learn and learn more about leadership. 

I feel a lot of it just comes back to like the basic kindergarten kind of concepts of like the golden rules, you know? Like, do you want to work for a boss that you liked? Do you want to work for a boss that treats you kindly? Do you want to feel like a human?

These days, and maybe the bar’s too low for us now. I don’t know, cause there’s been some bad leaders I guess, but I really feel like the real core things of a leader now for me really boils down to integrity. And if you’re going to lead a group of people you need to have a lot of integrity.

You need to be above reproach. You need to carry a lot of weight with what you speak to. I think there’s so many different things that boil back to integrity. That for me, it really becomes that pinnacle of, again, whether you’re a people person, you’re an introvert, you’re an extrovert, empath, whatever it is.

If you don’t have integrity as a leader, it’s hard to get a lot of people behind you. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Yeah. We could almost end the episode right there. It’s just just the “how”, you know, how to inspire. And I love that you went there. And, you know, a couple things just that I’m hearing is, you know, trust and autonomy, but yeah, that, that kind of the golden rule, which is integrity, and it’s not just, you know, a buzzword. Oh, I’m an integral person. Hey, let’s see how much more we can get out of this customer.

You know, that is if that’s, you know, what’s coming up for you as a leader right now, then, you know, many to check yourself. But it is integrity, right? It’s it’s, you know, not just saying what your what you mean or living what you mean, or, you know what I mean? Just it’s more than that.

It’s about being a true and trusting and honest and kind person. 

Nolan Hout

Yeah. And I think it, you know, cause I’ve been given this feedback by in the workplace and out of the workplace as well is, you know, Nolan, you know, sometimes people kind of think maybe you don’t like them or you’re kind of abrasive because you say exactly what you mean.

And once people like hear you do it time and time again, they realize that it’s very genuine. And so sometimes that makes me sound like a jerk. Sometimes it doesn’t, but they know that there’s nothing behind it. It’s not with the ill intent because there’s that integrity there. So that’s why I found that to be more of a common rule for me, because it allows those leaders to lead how they want while having this core, you know, grounding. 

Tim Reitsma

Well, I’ve recently read a book called Genuine Kindness and it’s a quick snappy read. And so I encourage anybody who’s listening to go and read that. And really it’s about kindness and it’s not just about the, you know, soft and as the author says, soft and gooey and just being nice.

It’s, you know, it is, say what you mean, and it’s not, you know, wrapping things up in a fluffy wrapper. It’s saying what you mean out of that place of integrity and being genuine in itself. Love that you went there, it tied nicely. And with with just a recent reading that I’ve been doing. 

And so the next question I like to ask, and it may actually play nicely into our conversation is — when you hear that phrase build a better world of work, you know, what comes to mind?

What does it mean to you?

Nolan Hout

So, you know, as I’ve said I’ve been at the same company for about, you know, for over a decade. And I think that mission of, you know, our build, what you said, build a better world of work is truly central to, you know, very connected to what we’ve always been about. We’re in the corporate training landscape, that’s, you know, a lot of what we do boils down to corporate training.

And kind of the number one rule is understand why you’re training somebody and let them know right upfront. You know, the what’s in it for me, the with them. You know, there’s an acronym for everything that acronyms with them and we’ll talk about OKRs later. So just acronyms all aboard. 

So, you know, for me what I believe in and what, you know, it is to build a better world of work, I think it’s, you know, maybe the, some people might answer it like, you know, like peace and, you know, find a job that you love and this, that, and the other. I always think it’s more centered around like find a job that gives you meaning and giving people meaning and purpose in their work.

Because not, you know, not everybody can have or do exactly what they love. And even those people that do what they love, they say, you know, I loved it, but then it was, I loved it when it was my hobby. Now that it’s my full-time job, I’m not liking it so much. And this gentleman, Aaron Hurst did a great, he wrote a great book on, it’s called The Purpose Economy and he did a big study.

I think it was with Michigan. You’ll have to check it out. But what he found, he ran a organization that connected people that wanted to donate their time to nonprofits. You know, if you’re in marketing, like me, I want to help out a nonprofit, maybe some nonprofit needs marketing help. He found that the people most likely to donate their time to nonprofits were other leaders of nonprofits.

And so he was like, it’s not, he’s like people’s purposes, not actually this thought of like, you know, making the world a better place or this, that, and the other. Each person had their own purpose of what it was. And so when we say build a better work you know, or build a better world of work, I think it’s giving people that inspiration and that motivation through giving them a purpose for their work.

Yeah. Maybe your job is doing the same thing again and again. But if you understand why you’re doing that, if you know the goals behind it, at least you have a better idea of, you know, yeah, as I inspect the, you know, maybe I inspect brake pads, I don’t know if that actually happens or not.

I’m a big Tommy Boy fan. And so I think of think back to that. So, you know, I inspect a bunch of brake pads. Well, why is that important? Well, it’s important because if one fails, you know, costs of life and our purpose of our companies, they get people safely for me to be. And so, yeah, it’s not that nice of a job or whatever.

It’s a mundane, I, you know, whenever it should be. But if I can understand that my job has a purpose, I get to choose the value associated to that. Whether it’s the intrinsic value of, you know, helping people stop on their cars on time or it’s the value of, it prevents our company from losing a $50 million lawsuit.

And it means that I get to stay employed for the next 30 years. To me, I always feel like that boils down to is a better world of work is one in which every employee goes to work feeling there’s a purpose for what they do. They’re not just there to grind it out. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. I love that. It’s tying it to that bigger purpose of that organization and it’s making sure that, that every employee, regardless of where there, they are in an org chart is just crystal clear on where the company’s going. Why it’s going there in that direction and how I can contribute to that? Instead of just showing up to work and, you know, like you said in spent, inspecting brake pads. It’s like, why am I doing this? Because I’m told to do it. 

And yeah, I remember jobs growing up, like little odd jobs. It’s a, Hey, why are you doing this? I just need to make some money. And that served its purpose, but you know, was I tied? Are we tied to that overall the direction of the organization? Maybe not, but but I love that.

Yeah. I’ve heard a lot of different ways of how to build a better world of work. And I haven’t heard so much about purpose yet, so thanks for bringing that. And I think that’s crystal clear, but it also ties in directly with our conversation of like, where are we going? Right? 

Like, you’ve been at your organization for 10 plus years, and you’re obviously connected to the purpose and obviously you’ve got goals set up. So, let’s talk about OKRs, you know, what are OKRs?

Nolan Hout

Yeah. Thanks. And you know, to the very baseline, right? OKRs, it’s two words — objective and then key result. Though, with objective and key results and you know, maybe an easier way which is kind of funny, right? It’s a very simple thing.

Objective, key result, but people have defined it one step layer where objective is simply what do you want to accomplish? That’s it. And then, a KR is they call it key result. How do you know you’ve accomplished it? So in its most basic sense, what is it that you want to accomplish and how you get to know you hit it? Yeah, you just I’ll take it just one layer deeper. 

Now that what you want to accomplish is quite important and the idea of OKRs is that when you’re defining the “what you want to accomplish”, that it really ought to be that purposeful statement. That really ought to be a statement that drives motivation. And when I look at companies that are doing OKRs at their companies, one of the biggest things I see is there, they have issues with how they write down their objectives and their key results.

And I think it’s because we’ve lost the art of writing and the importance of the words that we use. So the biggest thing, you know, with this objective, it should be inspiring. It shouldn’t be, you know, as a marketer, it’s very easy to write an objective that might say, create a demand strategy for Q3 or whatever it is versus, you know, fuel the sales team for Lightspeed trajectory of growth in Q3.

Yeah, it’s a little cheesy. Yeah, you know, whatever, but it’s something people can get behind. It’s kind of cheeky. It’s kind of fun. It makes you smile. So that’s your objective. Again and then the key result the, really the key with your, is kind of the opposite of the first one. That’s where you get a little bit more boring if you would, and then just centered, or it has to be measurable.

There’s lots of different ways to say it, but it has to be measurable. You know, okay, are you, and I think, and the big the big purpose, I guess, of the whole thing is to tie it up and always should be the highest order of value to that company. So something as simple as, you know, okay, my objective is to, you know, get rocket fuel for the sales team by way of leads.

The key result should not be something like create a landing page. That’s a task, it’s a job you got to do. There’s no purpose behind that. What is the, so you have to ask yourself, well, what is the purpose of this landing page? Does that generate leads? Okay, how was the landing page going to generate leads? It was going to have a high conversion rate.

Okay, cool. So then the key result should be have a landing page that converts, you know, 370 leads or it converts at 7%. And that’s the big difference between an OKR versus just creating a bunch of tasks or a project management kind of thing is that it’s asking you to step away from the project and focus on its purpose.

Another, you know, there’s another common saying I hope I can get it right. But it’s, “You want to measure the outcomes, not the outputs.”

Tim Reitsma

I love that. So many of us get stuck in measuring those outputs. Just, okay, we’re going to grow site traffic by 10% this month. Okay, so that’s your objective, but why actually, like, what’s the purpose of that? 

If the purpose is to, you know, to help people transform their leadership journey, then yeah. Write that in so it’s inspirational. And so why do we get stuck in just those tasks? Like the task-based OKR, if you will, versus thinking of that overall purpose that, you know, cause I think that’s a real intent about OKRs is it’s about purpose and it’s about tying it back to the purpose of your organization or your team, or where do you want to go in your organization?

Nolan Hout

Yeah. You know, I think there’s a lot that’s written on it. I think a lot of it actually boils down to kind of the data world that we live in. Like first are you, most corporations are built still a wrong along like the common philosophies of like a, you know assembly line kind of idea, right? Like how many widgets can this person make per hour, per whatever it will make X amount of dollars. 

And so that was very involve when everything was nuts and bolts, but then as we move to more human-driven businesses, we kind of lost track of, well, how exactly are we going to measure this or that or the other, but now we can. You can measure, we can see how much time did they spend, right? 

If you’re a software engineer, you can see how many lines of code per day did this person do, right? When I was at my first job in sales, I had to call 200, I had to call 200 times a day. And I, and, and so it was very, because they could track it, right? It used to not be able to, but software’s better.

Data is better. It’s easier to store it. So I think what happened is we got so attached to the data that we wanted to be able to track it at such a granular level. And because we realized that if we can track it at its most granular level, that’s the leading indicator. You know, that’s the first nugget we can see into success.

But I think we went so far that now the people that were asking to do that were don’t actually understand why they’re doing it. Right? We’ve defined the what, and we’ve got data for the what. We’ve done a really good job of it. But the why we stopped talking about, because we thought, well, why does it really matter?

Like they don’t really care. All their job is to do build some widgets, but that’s not what motivates people. And we’re seeing that, right? And McKinsey put out a huge report on purpose and specifically the purpose, you know, post COVID and they said that’s the, that’s what’s driving a lot of resignations these days. It’s not actually much to do with the company not making them happy.

It’s just their work. They’re not getting purpose in their work. And so I think it was all stemmed from, you know, the original structure and then having the data to measure drove us down this logical path. I think now the pendulum, thankfully, starting to swing the other way. 

Tim Reitsma

Well, I think you’re, you’re absolutely right.

And it is, again, just like we even talked about to build a better world of work, it’s about purpose. And, you know, we can set an OKR or goal, but if we don’t know what the intent is behind it, what is it actually doing? Like, okay, you need to produce a hundred widgets this month. And what’s the purpose? What’s going to happen?

Like I, you know, I manage a small team and we produce content for People Managing People and person on my team were look, we actually just recently looked at the content schedule and looking at each piece of content. And what is its purpose? Why are we producing this versus, oh, we got to fit more content in, but is this adding value?

What are we doing with it? And when we start to see, you know, within a short period of time starting to see it rank and people are engaging with it. That’s the purpose. You know, our purpose at People Managing People is to really help build a better world of work and to create happy, productive workplaces. 

To make it simple, we want to provide that how, and because we’re so clear on what we’re doing, you know, people within our organization are just excited and fired up about that’s what we’re doing. But I think so, I think you’re absolutely right. We got to tie that purpose before we can even start going in, okay, now what is our objective?

What are we doing? How do we get there? And so let’s say we’ve defined our purpose. Now, what? Okay, you know, you’re sitting there. If you’ve got a purpose at your organization, you know what you’re doing. Do we just do stuff? Or, you know, how do we create that objective? Like how do we connect that, those dot?

Nolan Hout

Yeah. You know what, I think that’s the, that is the beauty of an OKR. And it’s actually where we have the biggest pain. So, I mentioned this McKinsey report one of there is very like dummy, I guess, pieces of evidence was that people, managers, you know, leaders, executive leaders, and the vast majority of them, 87% of them or something like that, feel that they can live their purpose at work.

And that makes sense because they’re the people driving the purpose. Like they’re the ones who get to decide what to do. So of course they’re living their purpose that they’ve put out. So 87%, but then if you look at the workforce, it’s like 90 plus percent of people below that management level don’t feel connected to the purpose. 

And so, OKRs, and, you know, in my opinion, one of the biggest, those beautiful concepts of them is taking the objectives and key results of your executives. And it’s designing in a structured way to take that line by line, down into the organization. So while, you know, me as an executive in the organization, my, my objective might be, to drive, you know, $8 million in marketing source revenue. 

Which would then tach to my director who’s going to say, you know, my director of inbound is going to say, well, if it’s 9 million, let’s say 10 million, it’s easy. Mine’s 10 million. He’s going to say I can do 8 million of that. So his goal is 8 million that the social, the head of social, he’s going to say 2 million of that is mine.

And then the manager’s going to say, well, of that 8 million, I’m responsible for just the PPC, the pay-per-click campaign. So that’s what I’m going to take. And so it boils down to maybe a graphic designer, I don’t know, who’s going to say, I need to have a landing page that converts it above 5%. And this person, while their objective is only directly related to their person, you know, their manager above them of, you know, get whatever, you know, 600 MQLs or whatever it is.

They can see within, you know, within, a lot of the software tools do this with an OKR is I can see how my 5% on my landing page is helping generate 9 million in marketing source revenue. And so I think that’s the big beauty of an OKR is, it ensures that the purpose of the organization can also fulfill the purpose of the individual, because that’s where it gets lost.

It doesn’t get lost at the top, which is kind of funny because you know, some people implemented OKRs and they just keep it at the executive level. And I think they’ve missed the point. It’s not that, you know, if they think misalignment happens at the executive level you know, you go two layers deeper and it’s a whole different world.

So I think that’s the biggest beauty of the OKR, is driving it down layer by layer. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. It’s it just reminds me of this concept of cascading goals. And the same thing, I mean, whether it’s a smart goal or OKR I personally like OKRs rather than trying to go through another smart acronym. But but that objective, what are we trying to achieve on the exec level and how then, you know, so does my team, or do I, you know, how do I take that and put a goal from, for me and my team? 

And how do we then break that down further and further. So everyone in the organization knows, you know, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and and the, yeah, that real purpose behind it.

Nolan Hout

Yeah. And so that I think, you know, half of any good OKR implementation is just that, right? Is actually writing a good objective. Writing a good key result. The other half, or maybe three fourths of it, honestly, 75% is what happens next? And I think that’s the other beauty of OKRs is they’re meant to be updated almost like weekly, right?

And every conversation that you have, every meeting and the way that we believe, every meeting that you have should be connected back to an OKR. Right? We live in this world. We got so many meetings, and everybody complains. Them, individual employee complains. “I’m in too many meeting. I can’t get my work done.” The manager complains.

The executive complains. We’re not getting any work done. We’re spending all of our time in meetings. And the answer that most people come up with is no more meetings. Nope, no meeting Monday. Oh, yeah. That will solve the problem. We’ll just say no meetings on Monday. You know, or they say we’ll use this structured template, which gets used for a month or whatever.

But like, imagine if every meeting you had was attached to an objective and a key result. Attached to a goal, and you had the freedom to say like, okay, this meeting’s here, this isn’t attached to any of my objectives or key results. When you do that creates tremendous focus on hitting that goal, because we know how it goes. Right? 

You hit a goal and some of these other goal management platforms, you ride them and then maybe you review, you review them at the end of the quarter, or you’re going, whatever. I believe on another big beauty of the OKR is just a systematic way in which you go through weekly updates and check-ins, because it’s so easy to lose focus. A different priority comes up and now that’s the top priority.

And well, now that’s the top priority and employees aren’t empowered to go back to their boss and say, well, what about this? But I’m telling you, I am. My team is, they come to me and say, Nolan, you want me to do this, but that’s not in my OKR. What would you rather me do? Would you rather me do this or this thing in my OKR?

Cause I’m not going to get a good OKR score. So it creates that focus. The other thing that I really love about OKR is I think it’s a manager’s best friend, because I think it finally gives them an evaluation tool for them, their employees that is both meaningful for them and meaningful for their employee.

I think a lot of people, when they look at like, you know, how am I being evaluated? It’s a once a year kind of check in and there’s been a lot of studies that are like, well, a lot of it is dependent on the mood of that person that day or whatever it is. And so it creates more touch points and were tangible touch points.

To say, yeah, like this person is performing, they’re hitting their goal. I can see it every week when I meet with them, or every month or whatever it is. And so I think that’s the other really beautiful thing about it, is that managers always know how their people are performing. And if you’re an HR, I think you have, you know, we have a pretty big HR crowd.

We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from them as well that, you know, gosh, where performance reviews and performance evaluations started, you know, a lot of them say they kind of do everything but measure performance. So I think it’s it actually does what they’ve intended to be doing, which is great.

So as I said, three or four great things, they don’t care I was doing. I think that’s the great thing. Is it solves many things that I think organizations struggle with mightily that are actually at the center for transforming their business. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. So what I’m hearing, they give us purpose, they give us direction, they tell us what matter and, what matters and they tell us also how we’re going to be measured, if you will. And I think one thing also when I’ve used OKRs or goals in the past with teams and, is that, yeah, like you said, well, this is my goal. So if you add anything else to my plate, you know, I can’t do it. I’ll do that next quarter, because this is my goal, but it allows us to have a conversation.

And I recently had a conversation with somebody who another leader who just needed some help. Because somebody on their team kept saying, we’re just, I’m just too busy. So I asked this leader so, well, what are their, what are their objectives in this quarter? What’s their goals this quarter? And like, well, they don’t have any.

I said, well then of course, they’re going to continue to feel like they’re always busy. You know, if they’re trying to, you know, produce, you know, 10 widgets, but we’re now saying produce 10 widgets plus, you know, 10 more over here. Oh, and then write some copy over here. And all of a sudden, you know, it’s a three person job and of course, they’re going to say, we’re too busy.

But if you sit down at the beginning of your, that time period, whether it’s a month or a quarter, you know I like to look at it quarterly personally and say, okay, this is what we’re, this is what we’re aiming to achieve. How are we going to do this? And then you start breaking down those tasks. So we have that objective, what’s that key results, you know, we’re working on a new product offering.

And so we have that objective. We have that key result, which is launching a new product with an X number of sign ups. And now we’ve got a giant task list behind, underneath that, but those tasks are not, I mean, some of them are maybe an objective in itself, but it’s just figuring out how to measure that right thing.

And so how do you do that? 

Nolan Hout

Yeah, I mean, I think Tim before, I think you really nailed the thing with OKRs that are just beautiful. Which is, you know, there’s this, the analogy of American football when you’re doing your OKR is it’s you know, quarterly is really what they do. It’s kind of like creating a game plan before the game even starts, right? 

You spend Monday through Friday prepping for this game. Everybody has put their time and attention and they have a clear head. You know, they’re not on the field, literally banging heads against each other. They don’t have a play clock telling them you have to get moving. You got to be in the moment. So that’s what you do at the start of the quarter, right?

You have your game plan and then you have your check, you have your huddles, right? Between every play, you’re huddling up, then maybe halfway through you have halftime, right? You sit back and you say, okay, here’s where we are with our goals. Now, ideally when you have these check-ins, you get to have those great conversations of, you know, this was my priority.

And we decided on this when we had a cool head. You know what, we decided that this was the right thing to do when we weren’t banging our heads against each other. Because once we start banging our heads against each other, all of these crazy ideas come out and it gets decided in a 30 minute meeting, usually in the last five minutes, somebody has an idea and they say, go do that, which creates five hours of work for the person. When it was a throw away comment to begin with.

So I really, I loved what you had said there about just the timing of it all is so crucial. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, I think it’s, I don’t know about you, but you know, if I had a meeting or if I’ve, you know, one-on-one with the team member and, you know, on a Monday and said, oh, we’re going you know, we’re going to change the website to purple.

And they said, okay. And they changed to purple. And then next Monday I’m like, actually I like blue. And then they change it to blue. And then I, you know, keep going down this cycle. All of a sudden, there’s no purpose. It’s almost going to, like what’s the point? Like, what am I actually doing? And then you see, you know, you walk by their computer, if you’re in the same office.

And then they got, you know, LinkedIn jobs open looking for another job. And so it’s setting that direction and but also choosing what matters that to focus on. 

Nolan Hout

Yeah, and then it also prevents, you mentioned like the website change of purple. You know, I, it’s something very close to me because, you know, in the marketing I can control a lot of that.

And I found that, without cares being this bigger, you know, you try to step back and think of the highest level goal that you can. What I don’t hear talked about a lot in OKRs is the innovation that it brings, because you’ve just told them what you want to do to hit your goal. You haven’t told them exactly how to do it.

It gives your team the ability to figure that out and find a way to do it. And today, I don’t know about you, Tim, but I’m too busy to get down into that. You know, if I’ve done my job, I’ve hired a competent person. And that person is competent to do the job that I’ve hired them for. I don’t need to tell them exactly how, in fact, if I have to do that, they’re not going to grow.

If they find a different way to get to the goal than I had thought, everybody wins. If they find a different way to get to the goal and they don’t hit it, we still win. Because we know we’ve learned something new. Yeah. 

Tim Reitsma

No, that’s, I love that. Like, you know, I’ve talked in previous podcasts about where we’re kind of a society now, and this is just my opinion of just reading headlines and jump to solutions.

But as leaders in organizations, if we give a headline and a step-by-step on how to unpack that problem and solve that problem and the solution then, yeah, we’ve, we’re not leading. We’re not that inspirational leader. And so, right. It’s like, this is what we want to do, right? And this is why we want to do it.

So go and figure it out. And I’m here to support you. I’m, you know, as you used a football analogy, like I’m sitting in the stands cheering you on. I’m not sitting here, I’m not the ref, you know, who’s calling foul I’m sitting there at you know, at the center field and just cheering you and helping guide your way.

But, you know, Nolan as we look to wrap up, if somebody is thinking about where to start with OKRs, what do I do? How do I go about this? What’s the first thing that they need to do? 

Nolan Hout

Well, obviously the answer is to go to unlockokr.com. That’s the first thing they do, cause that’s the website for our product.

No, I, in reality, it is. So there’s two options you have if you want to do about OKR is first, there’s a ton of content free out there online right now. Google OKRs and you’ll find a billion different things, but boils down to two things. One: just get started. If you start Googling OKRs and try to be perfect off the bat, you will never implement them. 

Do not believe that there is a perfect way to do OKRs. Do not believe that to do a true OKR, it has to be an ambitious and audacious goal. Don’t believe that you can’t do performance evaluations in OKRs. Go into it and have OKRs work for you. Just get started and have it worked for your organization.

The more you read, the more you learn. You’ll figure out what’s, what works for you. And no two companies are implementing the same way, whether you do want to be very rigid and buy the book. And if that works for you, then do that. But don’t allow that to be a barrier. I see that all the time as people think, well, it doesn’t really fit our culture because of this.

Don’t let that get in the way. Start doing it at whatever type or whatever component works for you. Excel is an easy way to start, you know, just to write them down. Writing in Excel super simple. The only caveat, I will say, is if you want or wanting to go with a software route two things. One, if you had mentioned the podcast, I’ve, I will give you three months for free on our platform.

There’s no credit card, nothing. Three months, it’s yours. Just say, Hey, I heard you on the podcast and luckily you’re talking to the guy who’s going to see the lead come in. So I’ll make sure that you get attached. But the benefit of a software is this question we get asked all the time, like, is it really much better? That only, the big benefit of those who are just starting to get a software is one, most companies will give you free consultations on how to start, right?

They’ve got coaches, they’ve got contractors, they’ve got people who know the world. They’ve seen, they’ve seen it all. So just having the conversation with somebody in that domain is super helpful. And usually there’s no charge for it. The second is, the software has been designed to try to help you implement OKRs in a meaningful way.

Super simple example. At our platform, you cannot write a key result that isn’t measurable. It will not let you proceed unless you have put in a dollar, a percentage, a number, a bullion answer. You have to say, why is this measurable and will not let you proceed without it. So the tools are there to actually help you leverage the benefits of the OKRs.

That’s the one caveat, I would say a lot of people think, well, do I have to buy it? You don’t have to buy it, but it actually is quite helpful if you’re starting now. 

Tim Reitsma

Ah, I love that. Yeah, it’s as simple as grabbing a piece of paper, a sticky note, if you’re on the train or transit, listening to this just start. You know, I actually, this is inspiring me to go back and look at my goals for this year and this Q2 or this quarter that we’re in.

’cause yeah, I need to do some rewriting, I think. And so this has really inspired me. 

Nolan Hout

Yeah. And if you spend 10 minutes, like you said, doing it in an Excel spreadsheet and ask your team, you know, if you want to figure out if you need this or not, ask your team to do the same and see how many of those answers are aligned.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Yeah. And so there’s, like I said there’s lots of resources out there. Head to Unlock OKR for some great and rich resources. We’ll put the link to, to, to the company in the show notes as well. And also head to our website, peoplemanagingpeople.com. There’s a lot of great content on OKRs there as well as head to our community.

And if you’re stuck and don’t know where to start, just ask a question. Often we get stuck in our own minds making up our own narrative, and it seems like this is big and scary and just don’t know where to go. Well, let’s just connect with other peers because it’s not just me not knowing where to start.

There’s others out there and, you know, others who can share that wisdom. 

So with that Nolan, I really appreciate you coming on and just sharing your passion about I mean, OKRs is one of them, but just purpose in business. I think that’s a big takeaway. I’m taken away from this episode. So I really appreciate you coming on today.

Nolan Hout

Yeah. Thanks, Tim. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking about something that is so exciting to me. You know, it’s very exciting. And love talking about this. It is near to my heart as a leader. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, that’s great. I can feel that passion when we first met and and I’m sure we’re going to have more conversations about this in the future.

And so for those who are listening, you know, we’d always love your comments, feedback. Head to our social channels, drop us a note and and also feel free to connect with me at Tim at peoplemanagingpeople.com and if have questions or comments or ideas for future episodes, love to hear from you. 

So with that, thanks again, Nolan.

And for everyone listening, have a great day!