How to make the values that guide your work something your team can live out loud every day.

A compass' arrows point north, south, east, and west. The direction north is replaced with the word values, indicating that values guide our work.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Teams are more productive when everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing and why their work is important. A key aspect of institutional wellness is begins with developing a common language for the values that guide our work. From there, the next step is to ensure that everyone—without exception—is mindful of how the organization lives these values out loud.

One tool that often helps schools, nonprofits, and government agencies to organize their work around their values is the Outcomes and Key Results framework, written about by John Doerr. First, you clarify outcomes that represent specific, significant achievements you and your team would like to achieve. Then, for each outcome, you identify what key results would indicate progress towards your outcome.

Outcome: A specific, significant achievement you’d like your team to achieve.

Key Result: How your team measures and demonstrates progress toward your outcome. 

For example, Compass High School is an alternative high school in Tucson, Arizona that values comprehensive education. For them, this means that students leave high school equipped for whatever they decide to do after graduation. This might be pursuing a degree in computer science, military service, a welding apprenticeship, or a career in culinary arts. At Compass, making comprehensive education something that they live out loud means increasing opportunities students have to learn marketable skills that can serve them after graduation.

This is how the leadership team at Compass High School is using the Outcomes & Key Results format to organize this part of the work:

Outcome: Increase opportunities for students to participate in post-graduation preparation programs.

Key Result 1: Add five new post-graduation preparation programs by May 2021.

Key Result 2: Increase participation in post-graduation preparation programs from 10% to 50% by May 2021.

Key Result 3: All staff and students have access the information they need to select, enroll, and participate in post-graduation preparation programs:

  • Calendar for all key enrollment dates. (Y/N)
  • Program guide explaining what each post-graduation program is about. (Y/N)
  • Training scheduled for staff and students to ensure that everyone knows what opportunities are available. (Y/N)

Notice how the outcome clearly states what the team wants: more opportunities than currently exist for students to participate in post-graduation preparation programs. By having a clear outcome, the team was able to develop key results that, when achieved, would guarantee that students had more opportunities to learn skills that would serve them post-graduation. And, by having measurable key results with clear timelines for completion, the team can communicate clearly with the rest of the school community what needs to happen, by when, and why the work is important.

While having outcomes and key results alone is only a preliminary step towards success, I’ve noticed that when the Compass High School leadership team meets, the dialogue is focused on what needs to happen to increase opportunities for their students. Their bias is towards action, and knowing exactly what they have agreed to do and how they will measure their progress has focused their work time on what matters most.

Typically, leaders use Outcomes & Key Results (OKRs) as an action planning tool. Often, they discover that the process of developing OKRs not only supports strategic planning and collaboration among teams, but also elevates the culture and climate of the organization. For example, having clearly defined Outcomes & Key Results might enhance the clarity of communication between leadership and staff. Often, teams notice that writing down OKRs about student achievement or client services leads to important conversations as a staff about what new skills or changes in practice might be required. 

Finally, while OKRs won’t work unless they’re written down, the process of documenting OKRs can be a powerful opportunity for collaboration and learning. In my experience, the process of writing OKRs is a critical opportunity for leaders to expand the breadth and depth of what their organization can offer those they serve. Use the template above, create your own, or read more about OKRs here.

Reflection and Application

1) Outcomes & Key Results are often used as a tool to support organizations. As you think about the OKR framework, how might writing OKRs support you as an individual?

2) Imagine your organization as though it were one person. Take a look at your Eight Dimensions of Wellness cards. How might your organizing benefit from developing four or five well-crafted OKRs that connect to one or more of the Eight Dimensions of Wellness? How might your organization be healthier and happier as a result?

3) Do it now: Think of something you’d like to achieve and write it down in the middle of a blank piece of paper. That’s your outcome. Now think about what you would have to achieve to achieve your outcome. These are your key results. What happened for you as you wrote down a goal and breaking it down into smaller parts?

You can get started with just the information in this blog. If you’d like to go deeper, check out the Services page and schedule a free meeting.

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