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Stop reacting to fire drills and start responding with resilience

Tl;dr — Building dynamic OKRs allows your team to respond to change while remaining rooted in collective priorities.

We previously discussed how your team’s ability to triage fire drills directly impacts the success of your prioritization and goal planning.

Having mechanisms in place to allow your team to triage and prioritize fire drills is foundational. But in order for them to take root, you’ll also need to foster a culture of response and resilience.

Respond versus react

How does your team approach threats to their priorities?

There was recently a trend circulating our social media: responding versus reacting. While this trend was a blip on the radar as far as TikTok goes, it relates to a topic our clients think about a lot — prioritization.

The difference between the two are more than semantic.

As Psychology Today puts it, “the more reacting we do, the less empowered we are.”

In the context of our fast-paced business landscapes today, teams have a tendency to react to fire drills, rather than respond. After all, urgency is invoked in the name.

But setting up mechanisms to help your team respond to fire drills while building a culture that supports those processes can help you avoid negative outcomes like burnout, culture rifts, and low morale.

Empower your team to be dynamic

Leaders today have to be intentional about how their teams adapt and operate in a rapid business landscape. Often, this requires new ways of working:

Here is where it’s imperative to model behavior as a leader. Embracing these values will allow you to be a more agile team – giving you the ability and space to pivot as new projects, initiatives, or issues are sent your way by stakeholders.

Rebrand fire drills

Let’s be clear — teams will never be able to eliminate what are often referred to as fire drills. These high-priority projects demand a quick turnaround and are often inevitable.

But you can shift how your team responds to these high-stress, high-priority asks by changing the way you talk about them.

Eliminate the use of the label fire drill by your team. It’s inherently negative — and implies a lack of control, agency, and authority.

Instead, find a term that aligns with your team’s culture with a more neutral connotation. Consider referring to these projects as P0s, surges, or immediate action projects. The only parameter is that it conveys urgency.

Once you’ve rebranded, start shifting your mindsets. Handling P0 projects doesn’t have to be a reaction — it can be ingrained in your team’s culture as something they’re experts at.

Use your OKRs to map success

When we think about OKRs, we think about yearly or quarterly cycles. They’re typically anchored in ambitious company goals which waterfall down through leadership to individual contributors.

But consider how your team is expected to move against company goals. Many teams move too quickly to be able to accurately outline sacred key results that will remain true throughout the entire year. For many of us, rapid change is inevitable.

Because of that, teams need room to expand, contract, or add to key results & P0 requests in real-time, all while continuing to map to high-priority company targets.

Instead of acting as a map that sets static annual initiatives, create OKRs that charter what success looks like.

What we want to achieve

Charles Duhigg, author of three popular books on habits and productivity, writes, “The choices that are most powerful in generating motivation are decisions that do two things: They convince us we’re in control and they endow our actions with larger meaning.”

As a leader, your OKRs should act as a vision that motivates your org to aim for your success measures no matter the macro environment.

In other words, you’re not saying “here’s what we’re going to do.” You’re saying “these are the outcomes we want to achieve.

You can do this by figuring out which success metrics will allow your team to hit company targets that will also be unchanged throughout the entire planning cycle.

With leader-level OKRs that show your team what a successful destination looks like, your leadership team and ICs will have agency to adjust their initiatives and projects in real-time.

When a P0 project comes in hot from stakeholders, your team will know why it’s important and what key goal it maps to. They possess the agency to adjust their workload in favor of the newest, most urgent request.

Voila! Dynamic OKRs.

Response & resilience

With a set of leader-level OKRs that clearly outline how your team will be measured on success, your org will be able to prioritize in real-time.

Google’s Project Aristotle found that the top three contributing factors for an effective team were:

  1. Teams needed to believe their work was important
  2. Teams needed to feel their work was personally meaningful
  3. Teams needed clear goals and defined roles

This method of planning allows your team to be creative, pivot, and see their impact without feeling like they’re falling behind on their yearly or quarterly measures.

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