Time is the scarcest resource in any organization. Unlike money, it passes with every second and you’ll never be able to earn it back. So how teams and employees spend their time is critical. Yet, many organizations are much more careful with how they spend their money than with how they spend their time.
Often, teams (or their superiors) also have unrealistic expectations for what can be accomplished within a quarter. They start with a lot more goals than they’ll actually be able to accomplish, a frustrating experience. There’s plenty of research that shows that stretch goals lead to better results, but whereas overstretching a muscle leads to injuries, overstretching a team leads to stress, burnouts and resignations.
Setting unrealistic goals hurts your business also in other ways. If you think that you’re able to achieve a lot more than you’ll actually be able to, you’re avoiding for instance a much needed conversation about what the real priorities are.
The key to success is to manage time well, and to be realistic about what can be achieved within that time. Here is how to do that.
What takes up your time
For teams, what takes up their time generally falls into 3 buckets:
- Business As Usual
This is everything they need to do to maintain the key areas of your business that require ongoing attention. It’s what’s necessary to “keep the lights on”, as some people say. For a Sales team this would be bringing on board new customers.
This is everything you need to do to realize your desired future. This is about breaking out of status quo and moving forward. For a Sales team from a software company, this could be to improve the demo experience so that their Opportunity to Customer Conversion Rate goes up.
Whether you like it or not, there are always things that a team needs to do that doesn’t contribute to their Business As Usual or Ambitions. Maybe they need to work on a project to help another team realize their ambitions for that quarter. And then there are meetings that they need to attend, etc.
How much time a team needs to spend in each bucket can change over time, as explained this blog post.
Using KPIs & OKRs to define what matters most
It’s important that teams are crystal clear on what their Business As Usuals are and what Ambitions they should be working on. That’s where KPIs & OKRs come into play:
- KPIs, Key Performance Indicators, define what business as usual is critical for a team, as well as monitor how their critical business as usual is performing.
- OKRs, Objective and Key Results, define what their ambitions are, and measure whether these ambitions are actually being realized.
KPIs & OKRs always reflect your desired outcomes. It’s critical to have those in place as it enables you to evaluate whether all these things that everyone will be doing (i.e. outputs) actually matter to your business. To learn more about the difference between outcomes and outputs and why it’s important to differentiate between the two, check out this blog post.
Once you have your OKRs & KPIs in place, you can carefully evaluate what needs to be done in order to deliver those desired outcomes. More about the outputs that drive your desired outcomes in this post.
Being realistic about time
Now that you have a good understanding of what takes up your time, and now that you have evaluated what needs to be done to deliver on your KPIs and OKRs, you should be able to estimate how much time all that will take.
As a team, ask yourself the following 3 questions:
- What percent of our (collective) time do we need to deliver our Business As Usual? In order words: how much time do we need for our KPIs?
- Completely ignoring the answer to question 1, what percent of our time do we need to realize our Ambitions? In other words: how much time do we need for our OKRs?
- Completely ignoring the answer to question 1 and 2, what percent of our time do we need for all the Other things? Anything below 5% is probably too optimistic.
Sum the percentages for questions 1, 2 and 3. If you’re below 100%, you could potentially take on more OKRs.
If you’re way above 100%, you have a resource issue, which must be resolved. There are only 2 solutions: (i) add more people to your team, which usually takes time so it often isn’t an immediate solution, or (ii) drop some of your Business As Usual and/or Ambitions, with the risk that you won’t achieve your KPIs and/or OKRs.
At Perdoo, we store the answer to these questions on our Team Pages in Perdoo. It helps everyone else to understand how each team spends their time, and why a certain team will only have 1 (or maybe even none) OKRs for a particular quarter.
I personally find it crucial that each team goes through this exercise before they start working on their KPIs & OKRs. It reinforces the notion that you need to be careful about how they’ll spend your time. It also increases commitment. OKRs are usually pushed aside when Business As Usual starts eating up all your time. From a business point of view, I find that unacceptable: OKRs are important steps forward and if we don’t achieve them it simply means that, at the start of a new quarter, we’ll be at the exact same place as at the start of the previous quarter.
I also want that the sum never exceeds 100%: OKRs themselves are already stretch goals, we don’t need to stretch the team further with too many goals.
Time is the scarcest resource in your company, you need to be careful with how you spend it. OKRs & KPIs enable you to define and measure what matters most to each team and the business, they are your desired outcomes. Once those are in place, you can evaluate what outputs you need to deliver to realize those desired outcomes. Make sure that you can deliver all those outputs, and realize all those desired outcomes, within the time that you’ll have available.
You’ll quickly find that working with goals like OKRs, KPIs and Initiatives, is actually very motivating and rewarding, now that you can realistically achieve them.