Pop Quiz: Objectives Inspection

This is an excellent time of the year to flush out a lot of faux processes. Less than two months have passed, and already I bet many of you have lost track of the fancy roadmaps, goals, or OKRs that you worked so hard on creating. Let’s quickly review your goals upkeep and assess how well you are doing so far.

Status Tracking

The easiest aspect of goals is to mark them off as you achieve them. However, that will never happen if you never go back to them. When was the last time you and your team referred to the goals/objectives/KRs and measured progress towards achieving them? If you haven’t yet, do you have something on the calendar for the upcoming weeks?

Goals that are forgotten for too long tend to go stale. Further, even if you forget about them, not everyone on your team will. When you let that happen, you are participating in a negative form of culture-shaping: the team members are learning that some activities are just “fluff” that doesn’t really mean anything. I bet that’s not the sort of culture you set out to foster.

More than merely declaring a goal as done or not, keeping track of its progress in order to see if it’s going according to plan or not is healthy and useful. Making these checkpoints regular (e.g., creating a recurring event for reviewing them) is worthwhile.

Adjusting Goals

Now, a good chunk of you reading these just realized that you haven’t looked at your objectives in about two months and, upon doing so, can see that some no longer make sense. Two months in startup-land can be a lot. What do you do?

First, realizing it now is significantly better than at the end of the year when you’re making plans for 2023. This again connects to how we are modeling culture and accountability to the team. Handling shifts in strategy earlier helps establish and maintain trust and goodwill across the different ranks of the organization.

Second, once you realize that things have changed, it is time to refresh your goals accordingly. That way, when you review them again (as you just scheduled to do in the prior section, right?), you will be able to keep an eye on the progress in a healthy manner. There’s nothing wrong with admitting mistakes or that we now know things we didn’t back then or that the industry or market changed without us expecting it. Revising plans sets the team up for success rather than continuing on for the rest of the year without a clear direction forward.

This is part of the reason that I advise my clients to form strategies that are valid for roughly a year. Any more than that for startups (and, frankly, everyone in the world in the last couple of years) is delusional.

Making Daily Use of Goals

Lastly, another way to assess how well you’ve done when compiling your objectives is to consider how often they are used to guide the day-to-day work. Do PMs cite the objectives as a reason to say no to certain features, no matter how sexy or shiny? Do engineers use them to discuss possible tradeoffs in different approaches to tackling the problem du jour?

Objectives that no one ever thinks about miss the point. They should be used to put in useful constraints that make your team more focused and effective.

Thinking about these, how do you rank? Is it time to refresh your goals? Adjust how they are used? Remember, it’s not about the plan; it’s about the proper planning. Ensure that you always know where your team is headed—that’s a core part of genuine leadership.