How to teach OKRs and leadership

You have probably had the experience of teaching someone how to drive a car.  If not, imagine the scene.


Your objective is to teach enough basic skills so that your loved one can drive away.  You start by teaching safety protocols like “wear your seat belt” and “always keep two hands on the steering wheel at “9 and 3.”  Then you explain the functions of the gas pedal, brake pedal, gears and all those shiny buttons on the dashboard.  Then you offer encouragement as your loved one shifts into gear and drives from 0 to 30 mph within a minute.  Your Key Results (KRs) often follow that formula “from x to y by date.” 

     Objectives are defined as “what you do.”  They are qualitative and each person in the organization can write their own.

     Key Results are defined as “how you measure that objective.”  They are quantitative and answer the formula “as measured by.”

     OKRs are defined as “a management methodology that helps people focus efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization.”

For a 3-minute excerpt of a keynote presentation on OKR Leadership that I provided in December, 2019 to over 700m business leaders in Denver, CO, click here.


The “Father of OKRs” title is attributed to Andy Grove, the founder and CEO of Intel.  You may know that Andy literally wrote the textbook on semiconductors in 1967, well before Silicon Valley attracted the largest migration of assets in human history.   You may also know that Andy wrote “Only the Paranoid Survive” in 1996, as a reminder of market volatility and the need to measure the details.  His father was killed at Auschwitz, and he fled Nazism with his mother at age 20.

John Doerr worked for Andy.  John learned how to implement OKRs.  Then, in 1997, John made an $11.8M investment in 12% of Google when working as a venture capitalist at Kleiner-Perkins.  The co-founders of Google wanted to organize data globally.  When John introduced OKRs to Google, Larry Page said, “Well, we need to adopt some management approach.”  The rest is history.  I recommend John Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters, (2018) for examples ranging from the Gates Foundation to Bono.

     Here are my examples of teaching OKRs to leaders in a small business and a large business.

     I was consulting the CEO and owner of a $40M retail business that required succession planning to transition the next generation of leaders.  At a management meeting I observed that the managers did not describe their business using any metrics.  I asked the owner, “Where are the metrics that these managers are using to drive their business?”  He sighed with fatigue, like so many small business owners.  I provided OKR definitions and templates and a free course on OKR leadership skills that you can access here.  Then I worked with several key managers.  One manager’s objective was to increase profit margins by 6% Y/Y.  KR1 was to identify current measures for sales, expenses, overhead, profit within 30 days.  KR2 was to distribute a one-page business summary to all other managers within 40 days.  KR3 was to track and reward increased profit margins within 60 days.  The result of his OKR leadership was that he modeled accountability, transparency and business results for the other managers within 60 days.

     I was consulting the president of a Fortune 500 business with $5B in annual revenue and over 10,000 full time employees in North America.  Their 20-year-old company grew quickly as a result of acquisitions.  The result was that silos of trust and information sharing were preventing consistent accounting practices.  I asked, “How are you measuring your desired results?”  He stuttered and said, “Not well.  We increased revenue and retained a lot of good people but sometimes I wonder if we’re measuring what we need to be measuring.”  I provided some OKR definitions and templates and vendor resources.  Then he defined his OKRs and shared them with his top 60 leaders in a training that I delivered.   Then I provided team coaching for those top 60 leaders so that they could cascade OKRs throughout their organization for three months. The results were uneven, as we expected.  People were experimenting with the OKR language as if they were new vocabulary words.  Three months of uneven applications passed.  The OKR process gained momentum in the annual meeting when the president spoke to 650 of their top leaders.  He declared, “As long as I’m in this role we are going to implement OKRs and increase our profit margins.”  He shared his business OKRs.  Minutes later, I followed him onto the main stage to introduce OKRs to those 650 leaders.  I led demonstrations with 6 of his top leaders.  Then I lead workshops to practice implementing OKRs within their organization.  His KRs included training, technology, and rewards tied to increased profit margins.  We are still assessing the impact of that OKR process.

The challenge of OKRs is not in introducing them as an initiative.   Anyone can introduce an evidence-based initiative.  

     The challenge in the OKR process is adopting an ongoing cadence of accountability and rewards.  Learning requires feedback.  Managers, by definition, need to maximize the productivity of others.  The core skill of managers is coaching.  We trademarked the AD-FITTM coaching process to teach managers the required steps to provide feedback to others.   Our experience is that those managers who adopt the AD-FITTM process accelerate the performance and behavior outcomes of others.   For a free course on how to apply the AD-FITTM process for Managers click here.

Smart managers and leaders typically understand OKRs pretty quickly.  The challenge is “in the details” as Andy Grove reminded us.  Over 30% of the companies on today’s NYSE and F500 did not exist 20 years ago.  There is no reason to assume that your organization should exist 20 years from now. 

We should talk about your organization if you need to respond to market changes.  If you would like a free course on OKR leadership skills with definitions and templates, then click here.  We would be delighted to work with you.

Call any time.

Should You Invest In A Leadership Workshop For Your Team?

leadership workshop

Managers, by definition, must maximize the productivity of others.  When we ask audiences, “How many of you are managers?” over 70% of the audience typically raise their hands.  Many do not have the word “manager” in their title.

As managers, you know that it is your job to maximize productivity and outcomes from your employees.  You need evidence-based best practices in leadership development.  Today.  And you need to demonstrate the ROI of that leadership workshop within 90 – 180 days.  There is a myth that leadership development programs should only be scheduled in the spring and fall, to avoid conflicts with vacations.  The reality is that leadership development workshops include both direct and virtual content that reinforces your outcomes.  Our programs last 3-12 months.  You should invest in a leadership development provider (like Action Learning Associates) because it is cost-effective and efficient.  Your core business is something else.  Our core business is to accelerate leader development.

Here are three reasons why YOU SHOULD invest in a leadership development workshop today.  

  1.  Investment in a leadership workshop should directly increase your team’s engagement 

Leaders need to practice leadership, just as attorneys practice law and physicians practice medicine.  Many studies have shown that when employees are engaged in leadership workshops they are then more likely to be engaged in the workforce. An employee who is more engaged is a) more effective at required tasks, b) more efficient on key performance indicators or objectives and key results (OKRs), and c) more likely to stay employed at your organization.  Retention of desired employees is a requirement in today’s competitive Talent Economy.  Be smart.  You never want to retain average employees- but you DO WANT to retain 100% of your desired employees.  And leadership development workshops are the most cost-effective way for you to increase retention of your desired employees.  We recommend that 70% of your promotions are internal, to encourage career ladders and talent succession.  We strongly recommend that you invest in 100% of your top performers with leadership development programs AT LEAST twice/ year.

2.  Investment in leadership workshops can help you develop your workplace culture

Culture can be developed, and must be developed, in response to changing market demands.  Ask anyone involved in leadership development coaching, and they will tell you that culture cannot be left to chance.   That would be reckless.   The academics describe culture as “how organizations function.”   As an example, we recently provided a leadership development workshop around ONE objective, “to create a culture of fiscal accountability using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).”  Let me explain…

Culture is best described using three overlapping circles.  Label each circle as: 1) underlying assumptions, 2) espoused behavior, and 3) artifacts.

1) underlying assumptions are the shared beliefs of your organization, including history of acquisitions, traits of key leaders who get promoted faster, competencies of leaders with higher reputations, or that unspoken assumption you have about a market or colleague.

2) espoused behaviors describe what we say we do, including common phrases such as “I’ll solve this” or “that’s not my problem.” Notice the difference between what we say we do, and what we actually do.

3) artifacts are tangible symbols of the culture, such as a new National  office in Nashville, TN for centralized services and consistent management of others. The cultural values posted in the lobby are artifacts of how you work.

Fact:  All three of these aspects of culture can change quickly.  Therefore, you NEED to invest in leadership development workshops to develop your desired organizational culture.   Today.  

3.  Investment in a leadership workshop should improve employee morale

Many studies have shown that large organizations are investing less time, money, energy and training  in their employees than they did 10 years ago.  Professional development discretionary budgets have plummeted from over $10,000 per person in 2008 to $4,000 per person in 2018.   Today, we invest more into maintaining cars and machines than we do in our most critical variable-  people.  That trend is reckless.   If you are investing less in your people than you did 10 years ago then you are LITERALLY in a race to the bottom of your market.   Look at the fact that only 35% of today’s F500 companies have been there for more than 50 years.  If you want to increase employee morale, then you need to invest in your top employees.  Nothing is a more critical investment.  Today.  Employee morale is NOT a lagging indicator.  If you want to develop agile problem solvers, then you need to invest in leadership development workshops.  You can make employee morale into a leading indicator.  Today.

You should not invest in a leadership workshop IF you do not care about 1) employee engagement, 2) workplace culture, or 3) employee morale.  We do NOT want to talk to you.  We wish you Godspeed.

You should invest in a leadership workshop IF you do care about 1) employee engagement, 2) workplace culture, or 3) employee morale.  We DO want to talk to you.  Today.  

We provide outcome-based leadership development workshops that guarantee your results.  We deliver programs throughout the United States and Canada.  We provide expert leadership coaching and executive coaching services, based in Nashville, TN or globally.  We’d like to visit you ASAP.

Contact us here.  Today.

If you are based in the Nashville, TN area then we are neighbors.  See details for leadership training for your employees here.   We’d like to visit you ASAP.

Primal Quest 2006, Utah, Team, podium finish

For 10+ years I led wilderness expeditions and teaching groups and providing individual leadership coaching for Outward Bound Schools in 3 countries. Each expedition was a microcosm of values and behavior. The photo above represents an extension of those skills.


In 2006, I raced on a 10-day expeditionary adventure race, called Primal Quest. Our team of four traveled continuously together, over 600 miles, mountain biking, trail running, climbing, rappelling, canyoneering, kayaking, and river swimming through the wilderness near Moab, Utah. We finished and were featured on CBS Sports. Hence, the image reminds me of a good team experience.


Our primary team goal was to cross the finish line, and our secondary goal was to remain good friends. We accomplished each goal.


Now let me pose a leadership coaching question:  How do you measure excellence for your team?


     Team included Doug Gray (captain), Bill Jordan (hoss), Jennifer Rinderle (sparkplug) and Steve Deis (lead navigator).


In 2004 we finished Primal Quest Washington.


In 2008 we finished Primal Quest Montana.  Then we rested.  Because we were tired.


What are you waiting for?

We all need coaching at times.  Call Doug Gray, PCC, at 615.905.1892 today.

Download this list of services and investment levels now:

Wondering If You Are a Good Fit For Your Organization?

     Recently 4 people have asked me that question. There may be something in the air, like ignorance or fear. Here is a quick model for you to determine if you are a good fit for your organization.

The Competing Values Framework (CVF)

     Models provide cognitive maps or useful images for self-assessment and consulting. For instance, the competing values framework defines four boxes from two continua: flexibility or control, and internal or external focus (Cameron, 2008). The result is a simple diagnostic model that can be used to assess your organizational culture (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: The Competing Values Framework (Campbell, 2008)

     As you read the following descriptions ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What quadrant best describes my organization’s values?
  2. What quadrant best describes my individual values?
  3. How can I re-design my life to work in an organization that supports my values?

     Organizations with high flexibility/discretion and high external focus and differentiation are adhocracy oriented. These organizations are dynamic, entrepreneurial, people take risks, and they value innovation and experimentation. Leaders in an adhocracy are visionary, risk-tolerant, and innovative. The adhocracy organizations value experimentation, readiness to change, growth, acquisitions, and new products and services. Examples include technology-based disruptors such as Uber, Airbnb, Virgin. The key word is “create.”

     Organizations with high stability/control and high external focus and differentiation are hierarchically oriented. These organizations favor structure, coordination, efficiency, and stability. Leaders in a hierarchically-oriented organization are good coordinators, organizers, and efficiency experts. The hierarchical organizations value stability, predictability, efficiency, rules, and policies. Examples include Bank of America, Community Health Systems(CHS), and Hospital Corporation of America (HCA). The key word is “control.”


     Organizations with high internal focus/integration and high stability and control are market-oriented. These organizations are results-oriented, value competition, achievement, and performance. Leaders in a market-oriented organization are hard-driving producers, directors, and competitive. They value winning, increased market share, achieving goals and targets, and rewards. Examples include Merrill Lynch, insurance salespeople, and car salespeople. The key word is “compete.”

     Organizations with high internal focus/integration and high flexibility/discretion are very personal places, like an extended family, where participation, mentoring and nurturing are encouraged. The leaders in clan-oriented organizations are coaches, mentors, or parent figures. These organizations value loyalty, tradition, collaboration and teamwork. Examples include the United Way, most churches, most nonprofits. The key word is “collaborate.”


     So where is your organization? Where are your individual values? These opposite and competing assumptions are useful descriptors of dominant orientations and value sets. But they do not determine behavior. You determine behavior, when you make your choices. Your individual values do not change.

     The key executive coaching question is: How can you re-design your life to work in an organization that supports your values?

     Frankly, that is why people hire an external consultant as an executive coach. Once we know an organizational culture, then we can predict your individual effectiveness, success of a merger or acquisition, and your individual quality of life.

     Then get in touch with me, your Nashville-based leadership and executive coach, at 615.905.1892  or schedule a complimentary leadership coaching session to discuss how you learn best. As your leadership coach, I strive to provide you with the tools to create an impact, rally optimistic coworkers and comrades, as well as maximize group and individual productivity and creation.

What are you waiting for?

Download this list of services and investment levels now:


Cameron, K, (2008). A process for changing organization culture. In T. Cummings (Ed.), Handbook of organization development (Ch 5). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Do you learn more from success or failure?

     Think of a recent example of success in your experience, and an example of failure in your experiences. Then consider the following formulas:

Learning from success

     Our accomplishments certainly define us; look at any profile on LinkedIn or your net profits from last year. And there is plenty of support for successful leaders, in western cultures, that value heroic leadership. Those examples range from Jeff Bezos to Mark Zuckerberg to the popularized leaders in this month’s Forbes or Inc. magazines. That focus on heroic leadership may reflect hierarchical beliefs such as “the boss is the super-leader” or our team is “too big/smart to fail.”  Heroic leaders exist in most cultures, as described by Campbell (1988).  However, excessive success can lead to hubris.  Success can endanger a leader, especially if they lose the ability to consider multiple perspectives. I have witnessed examples from previous executive coaching, management consulting, and leadership training clients who have lost their focus on a corporate vision. Successful leaders often need external coaches to speak truth to power.

Learning from failure

     Failures also define a leader’s character. We recall our failures from 8th grade and from last month. Some leaders post a list of failures in the hallway as a public reminder. Did you know that we recall failures longer than we recall successes, and that the memories of those failures are located in the oldest part of our brain where we process emotions? Last week I participated in a fascinating webinar on “Coaching the post-heroic leader,” led by Jeff Hull at Columbia University.  That webinar focused on recent studies describing adaptive leaders who are comfortable working in a fluid, networked, virtual world that supports failure. The lean startup movement described by Reis (2011) and the disruption models (Christianson, 2011) encourage failing fast, and failing often in order to gain a competitive advantage.  From a systems thinking perspective (Senge, 2006), failure can provide an external stimulation that helps leaders stay true to their values and character. Leaders who are failing at one behavior may need external coaches to teach them additional tactics and strategies.

Your Consultant’s Conclusions:

     My tentative conclusion is that leaders are in greater danger from success, than from failure. But my conclusion is less important than yours.

Ask yourself these leadership coaching questions:

  1. What have I learned in the past month?
  2. How do I know that I have learned that?
  3. What do I need to learn in the next 6 months?

Then call me at 615-905-1892 today,  or schedule a complimentary leadership coaching session to discuss how you learn best. As your leadership coach, I strive to provide you with the tools to create an impact, rally optimistic coworkers and comrades, as well as maximize group and individual productivity and creation.

What are you waiting for?

Download this list of services and investment levels now:


Campbell, J. (1988). The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday.

Christensen, C.M. (2011). The innovator’s dilemma; The revolutionary book that will change the way you do business. New York: Harper Business.

Reis, E. (2011).  The Lean Startup:  How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.  New York: Crown Business.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Random House/Currency.