How to Unlock the Power of Autonomy

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Pull up a chair: it’s acronym time.

At Toucan, we track our team-members’ performance using OKR — that’s “Objectives and Key Results,” a management tool most famously used by Google to keep its teams aligned and give people the power to act independently to drive the organization forward.

OKR is a powerful tool because it delivers both autonomy and accountability. Basically, it involves coming up with a specific, time-boxed Objective, then translating that into a concrete, quantifiable Key Result. Your objective might be “To become a recognized thought leader in the embedded analytics space by mid-2021,” for instance — and your key result might be “To publish three articles in top journals and give a TED talk,” or “To get 10,000 downloads for your new ebook.”

By setting clear goals and clear metrics that will be used to judge success, teams can ensure both that they’re heading in the right direction, and that they can clearly demonstrate and document their progress. That’s powerful because it makes it easier for individual team-members to claim the authority to act autonomously. When you have clear goals and a clear and defensible rationale for the steps you’re taking, it’s easier to step up and start the ball rolling without waiting to be given permission or instructions. That’s a powerful driver of innovation, in Silicon Valley and everywhere else.

Crucially, an OKR strategy doesn’t give people a blank check to act however they want. That would be a recipe for disaster, with employees going rogue or working on private projects that don’t serve broader goals. Done right, OKR serves as a connective tissue between employee and manager: the employee can easily articulate what they’re working on and why, and the manager can quickly and easily assess the employee’s progress toward that goal.

That gives managers a chance to guide, counsel, and course-correct employees without reining them in more than is necessary. By using clear goal-setting and accountability metrics, employees are able to take responsibility for setting their own goals and deciding what results matter, driving creativity and innovation. And because leaders still have transparency into that process, they can feel confident in allowing individual team-members some latitude to spread their wings, while still being able to set the overall direction and keep tabs on what’s happening in their organization.

To be clear, an OKR isn’t a pass-fail benchmark for success. In fact, an employee who achieves all of their objectives probably isn’t being ambitious or creative enough. But by clearly stating their goals, and sharing them within their organization, employees can align their innovation efforts, and push one another to reach higher and achieve more.

At Toucan, we’ve found that our OKR strategy helps foster a culture of creativity and innovation while still allowing us to strategically grow in directions that create consistent value for our clients. So if you’re looking for a way to make your organization more innovative, try out OKRs — it’s a powerful tool for any business that prizes creative thinking and an independent, entrepreneurial culture.

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