jade rubick

Use OKRs to drive equity


This is a part of a series of posts on improving equity at your company.

Change requires work

Improving your company to make things more fair for under-represented minorities (and thus for everyone) requires sustained effort. It’s not going to be solved overnight, and it takes real commitment. You’re fighting bias (which is built into how our brains work), and systemic issues that are pervasive and challenging.

OKRs are a good way to ensure you’re making progress

Objectives and key results (OKRs), or other goal frameworks, can be a way to drive improvements in equity. Executives and leaders pay attention to OKRs every day (or they should). So it can be a way to ensure that the company is improving in this dimension. And this can result in higher retention, and a greater ability to attract candidates to your company.

Smaller things can be done without OKRs. But for work that requires real programs to make them happen, OKRs can make sure they get the attention they deserve.

Improvements stack up over time

If you make improvements in a lasting way, every improvement you make adds to the last one. Having four quarters of equity related accomplishments behind you will mean your company is noticeably better than it was a year ago. This will aid hiring, retention, and will result in human beings feeling better about the workplace they’re involved in. It’s one of those nice areas where it is good for the business, and good for the people within it.

Here are the steps to take

  • Listen to people’s feedback. Ask where the pain points are. In the past, I’ve seen people use employee surveys, ERG groups, and direct 1-1s and skip level 1-1s to uncover what changes were most important to prioritize. Unless you’re sensing these things, you’re making guesses about what to improve. That’s better than nothing, but you might make your first OKR be to set these things up if you lack them.
  • Choose one thing each quarter to improve.
  • Craft an OKR out of that improvement.
  • Assign the work to someone. Be sure you rotate who gets the “equity work”. Take care not to make it seem like the least important goal, or the goal nobody wants. And you don’t have to be an underrepresented person in tech to do this work — it should be spread around evenly.
  • Have that leader report on progress each week, just like every other OKR in the compmany.

Political considerations

One thing to be careful of politically: you are branded by the work you do, and people will often brand you as being whatever you’re spending time on:

  • If you’re a white male, this is a good place to use your stored up privilege. I find it useful to think of it as a bank account. You can’t use so much that you go into debt, because then you become less effective. But, for this bank account, you want to keep your balance low. You probably have a higher interest rate than your peers from less privileged backgrounds, so use that interest for their benefit!

  • Whatever your background, it’s best to balance your focus, so you’re seen as both delivery focused, and process or culture focused. This is a good way to keep yourself effective and maximize the improvements you can make at your company.

  • At startups, the focus is usually on the company’s survival. You don’t want your efforts to be seen as competing with the survival of the company (even if the things you’re doing make the company better and more attractive to candidates). Delivery will always be the top priority of any engineering department. So having it be an OKR per quarter is a good way to make sure you’re committing to continual progress. I generally advise people to focus on improvements that don’t require a lot of effort until the company has achieved product market fit.

General advice on OKRs

See advice on using goal frameworks to see more suggestions on how to use goals to drive the results you’re looking for.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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