Insights from a Japanese OKR workshop

What does OKR look like in a Japanese context?

This question came to mind while conducting an OKR workshop for our Japanese client, a digital product design and research studio. The experience was novel and profoundly meaningful due to the rich learning that took place. In fact, learning was a central theme of the session, as the Sponsor intended to use OKR to foster and protect learning opportunities for team members.

Here are our insights from the workshop.

1. Making learning measurable

One key insight we gained is the distinction between Key Results (KR) and tasks. Tasks represent activities, while Key Results signify a state, outcome, or consequence of those activities.

When learning is framed as a task, its outcome can be ambiguous and difficult to gauge. For instance:

Task: I want to learn SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

If a team member presents this task, it’s unclear what the expected outcome is or how to measure the learning.

Compare this to:

KR: Complete 3 online courses about SEO recommended by my manager.

This KR is measurable because it specifies a clear outcome: the completion of 3 courses.

2. Incorporating learning into OKR

The question isn't whether learning can be incorporated into OKR, but how to do it effectively. Here are two models to consider:

A. Learning-specific OKR

While not uncommon, a standalone learning OKR may not always be continuous. There may be periods when no learning is scheduled. A learning-specific OKR can be continuous in different environment, e.g. schools. For example, grade-schoolers in California use OKR to support their studies.

B. Combining learning and business goals

The idea is to provide a learning opportunity for team members, as well as making the space for any client works that need to happen to support the overall company goals. Having both learning and business (or client-work) recorded in 1 OKR allows everyone to have a complete picture of what one is responsible for in that period. 

3. Aligning learning with business goals

Linking learning to business goals clarifies the reasons (why) and timing (why now) behind the learning efforts. Let’s look at one example:

We can dissect Johnny’s KR 1.2 which is about learning from two perspectives:

*Why: Johnny aims to pass the Japanese test because his company is partnering with a Japanese firm. This partnership is crucial to support the Sales KR 1.2 for acquiring new clients.

*Why now: Johnny needs to complete his Japanese learning by the current cadence (e.g., Jan 1-5) because the partnership will begin in two weeks.

This clarity highlights the importance and urgency of Johnny’s learning objectives.

Reflecting on the experience

Despite my decade of experience in practicing and teaching OKR, the three insights above were new learnings for me, reinforcing the concept of continuous learning. 

In addition, this workshop was particularly memorable as it was the first time I saw our instructions translated into Japanese and received answers in Japanese as well.

Thank you for reading.


Latest POSTS