OKR — Training for Managers

Several weeks ago, I attended a 4-day workshop in Singapore about facilitating powerful conversation. This short excursion is part of the personal development program in Product Narrative. 2 of us went.

The workshop covered a lot of materials about somatic (body), language, and emotion. However, one thing that struck me the most was how the workshop was set up and conducted. It was apparent that a lot of effort, if not all, was done to create an environment or situation that supports real learning. Hence, for example, during a discussion of sadness or pity, the environment was able to evoke that emotion for many of the participants. This experiential learning environment made the participants learn and understand the material in the real context.

This is not an attempt to summarize the content or experience of that multi-day workshop into a short article. I’d be skeptical of the quality of any of such attempt, really. But, I’d like to call out a similarity between the setup that was created in the workshop and the learning environment created from adopting OKR.

As it is hard and incomplete to learn about emotion just by reading, it is analogously hard and incomplete to learn to become a better manager simply by reading or attending workshops. Both require experiential learning. The learning must be supported by real circumstance.

We’ll explore how implementing OKR in your organization essentially creates a real environment to train your managers to become better leaders.

Managers matter a lot and can have a huge impact on employee performance. — Google re:Work

In addition, how does it eventually encourage behaviors that support more efficient meetings? We’ll look into the former topic in this article and continue with the latter in the next post.

When learning is not supported by the real environment

Have you read a typical how-to-become-a-good-manager article? Such an article usually lists down a few pieces of advice such as “learn to delegate” or “do not micromanage.” Or, perhaps, had you enrolled in a training program that covers a long list of skills for managers? A quick Google search will give us many to choose from e.g. essential skills for managers, new manager boot camp, or how to supervise and manage your team effectively.

If you answered Yes for any of the questions, you understand that they provide valuable knowledge. To take it further, you might also agree that many of those materials were created based on good intention: to help managers to get better. But, why is it really difficult to follow through and practice the knowledge in the real world e.g. in your office?

Wendy Palmer in her book “Embodied Leadership” shares a useful hint:

When I read books on personal development, I am in a safe place, usually my bed or favorite chair, and all of the recommendations make sense to me. However, when I experience a stressful situation outside of my comfortable environment all those good ideas about how to work with stress go out the window.

It is about the learning environment.

OKR facilitates a real learning environment and frequent practice

When you implement OKR in your organization, you essentially facilitate the creation of a learning environment to practice the essential skills to become a good manager.

Let’s take 2 things that always come up in any to-become-a-great-manager material:

  1. Delegating work
  2. Communicating with your team, as in giving feedback

And, let’s see how OKR provides a framework that naturally positions you to delegate and communicate frequently:

The timeframe referred in the above table (e.g. “… each person’s weekly OKR …”) assumes that we’re doing a weekly OKR. Bi-weekly is another common timeframe for OKR cadence.

The Setup and Review sessions, which shape the cadence, allow you to learn and practice frequently in the real working environment.

Closing Thoughts

Becoming a good manager will not happen soon after graduating from a management training course, nor by reading a hundred articles that list down the how-to. It requires real learning context to practice the skills, such as delegation and communication, and a healthy dose of repetition.

Another quote from the same book by Palmer:

If reading a book was all we had to do to achieve our full potential, then we would all be there. Part of the problem with just reading and understanding the information is that we do not have the embodied experience of the theory.

OKR facilitates that embodied experience of the (how-to-become-a-good-manager) theory.


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