The OKR process starts with setting goals, aligning them across the organisation and ends with a review of how you did. Valuable steps for sure, but the real magic happens in the Check Ins.
Check Ins are the moments when you pause, reflect on your objectives, and assess where you are on the journey to achieving them. You get to write some satisfying notes on what you’ve achieved, plan what you will do next, and forecast your eventual outcome. Different companies have different Check Ins frequency, but the gold standard is weekly. Hopefully you’ll see why by the end of this article.
A lot of managers running the OKR process think the Check Ins are important for reporting progress. This is true, but for me its not the primary reason for insisting on frequent check ins.
The real reason Check Ins are so important
In today’s world we are all facing constant distractions. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that distractions impact productivity in the modern workplace. Leadership author and Forbes contributor Mark Murphy recently invited 6,000 workers to answer a time management survey. He found that 71% of workers get interrupted frequently and only 29% block out interruptions. Moreover, he found that 67% of those workers who blocked out interruptions often went home feeling their day was productive, as compared to just 44% of those who suffered frequent interruptions.
The famous Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (no I can’t pronounce it either!) recognised and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state. He found that individuals attempting challenging tasks were able to perform at an astonishingly high level if they could achieve a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand.
He called this a state of “flow”. He found that performers, who achieved the true flow state, experience intense engagement. Time has no meaning and there is often a loss of self consciousness. The conditions necessary to achieve “flow” include, amongst other things, clarity of goals and complete concentration on the task at hand.
Flow, in the pure way Csikszentmihalyi described it, may be rare in the workplace, but we’ve all experienced that state where suddenly things are clear and simple, we achieve incredible productivity and time flies by unnoticed. The constant interruption of emails, Slack, Jira, Trello, social media and many more systems, clearly reduces the possibility of achieving this productive state in the workplace.
For many workers, in roles such as marketing, technology, customer service and team leadership, tasks are becoming more complex and mentally challenging. With interruptions, the tasks can take significantly longer and are more prone to errors. And finally, these distractions often result in time spent working on things that are “urgent” but not important.
Check Ins help you to re-focus on what is important, and help you plan how to achieve it
Check ins remind you of the goal, and therefore to begin with the end in mind. They invite you to proactively spend a few minutes thinking of the next step in the journey. This helps you prioritise tasks necessary to achieve your goals. And if your Check In also captures notes on what you did since the last Check In, which I recommend, then you also feel a sense of achievement that you accomplished something. This quickly becomes the mini dopamine hit that motivates your next check in. You can take satisfaction from having completed something towards your most important goals.
If you are one of the 25 million people who has read Steven Covey‘s top selling book on the 7 habits of highly effective people, you’ll recognise that the Check In process strongly supports Habits 1 and 2 and 3. Frequent Check Ins also promote the conditions necessary to achieve the state of flow as described above.
So it doesn’t really matter whether you Check In whilst waiting for the train home on Friday evening, or on Monday morning as you survey the week to come. The important thing is to make it a habit. With that habit, you are already well on the way to achieving outstanding results and delivering your most challenging goals.
If an organisation can assist its employees to develop that habit through the OKR process, not only will the productivity impact be significant, but your staff will feel more engaged, fulfilled and energised. You’re also doing them a massive favour in developing a powerful personal tool for their future careers and private lives.