Operationalizing the OKR Goal-Setting Framework for Civil Affairs Teams

Walter Woo


Upon graduation from the Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC) in July 2020, I was assigned to a Civil Affairs Team (CAT) in the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion. Within the next few months, my Team was split up multiple times to conduct training events and attend further schooling. I realized that CATs operate at a rapid pace, and time was tight to assess, address, and reassess the CAT on collective goals set out by company or battalion guidance. The reality of COVID-19 further complicated operations as teleworking became more routine. To counter the rapid and dispersed nature of CA Team and Company operations, our CAT implemented a form of the OKR goal-setting framework to help us to regularly focus, align, prioritize, and assess our efforts.


OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. Created by Andrew Grove at Intel and further implemented by companies such as Google and Apple, OKR is a “collaborative goal-setting tool used by teams and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results.” [1] Similar to Measures of Performance (MOPs) and Measures of Effectiveness (MOEs), OKR provides a framework to track progress and encourage disciplined initiative within the CAT in accomplishing operational goals. Essentially, OKR offers a way to align efforts within an organization or team by taking complex ideas and goals and turning them into measurable actions or priorities so that team members know if their tasks were successful and/or worth doing. Moreover, OKR increases feedback as it forces members of the organization to question whether some activity aligns with goals or priorities. OKR also drives CATs to ask what they can do better and whether they are meeting the commander’s intent.


In OKR, an Objective is defined as “simply what is to be achieved, no more and no less…[and] are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational.” [2] A CA-related Objective could be used in an administrative or operational capacity. For example, an Objective for a team can be to ensure 100% deployment readiness on the Team by FY22 Q1 or increase the host nation partner force’s (HN PF) medical capacity.


Within an Objective, there are usually three to five Key Results which “benchmark and monitor how we get to the objective…[and] are specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic…measurable and verifiable.” [3] Each Key Result can also include multiple subtasks to ensure KRs are adequately measured. With the first example Objective, three possible Key Results could be: 100% of necessary, pre-deployment training completed by next quarter, 100% of medical requirements completed by the end of the quarter, and all necessary pre-deployment paperwork completed and sent two weeks before the end of the quarter. Example subtasks for the first KR could be 100% SERE-C completion, 100% 350-1 training completion, and official documents acquired. Furthermore, to ensure goal achievement, CAT members are meant to assess OKRs continuously at the end of a designated period: every two weeks, monthly, quarterly, etc. This can be accomplished through quarterly counseling or fortnightly sync meetings, for example.


In addition, OKR parallels military doctrine in MOEs/MOPs and their indicators and compliments pre-established doctrine in military planning. MOEs, which are defined in JP 5-0, “Joint Planning Operations,” as “criterion used to assess changes in system behavior, capability, or operational environment that is tied to measuring the attainment of an end state, an objective, or the creation of an effect” [4] are similar to OKR Objectives in that they are both used to define an ideal end state to achieve. MOPs, defined as “criterion used to assess friendly actions that is tied to measuring task accomplishment,” are similar to Key Results as they both are usually used to assess the performance of Teams or their operations using a yes/no criteria. [5] Indicators are similar to subtasks as they both inform whether progress is being made on OKR or MOEs/MOPs. However, MOPs and MOEs can be independent of each other and use separate indicators to measure performance and effectiveness. In contrast, OKR firmly places Objectives, Key Results, and Subtasks in a direct, hierarchical fashion as a means of goal setting and accomplishment. Chart A from the CAQC illustrates the MOEs/MOPs framework while Chart B illustrates an example of an operationalized OKR framework.


Chart A: MOEs and MOPs Framework, Credit: 3BN, 1SWTG.


Chart B: OKR example


Our Team used a form of OKR to help us in preparing for and executing Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) under Large-Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) conditions at the National Training Center (NTC). Our Objective was to “Shoot, Move, Communicate, and Medicate under LSCO conditions in hours of limited visibility.” Our Key Results were “increase proficiency on four different communication platforms,” “conduct over 10 collective hours of dismounted, mounted, and airborne movement in Q2 FY2021,” and “plan and execute at least 5 different engagements as a Team prior to NTC.” We saw the tangible benefits of OKR as we rapidly executed CAO in the complex, fast-paced environment of NTC. By using OKR, our Team was able to align our efforts to accomplish our Objective, prioritize training and retraining, and set conditions for success. Moreover, operationalizing OKR allowed our Team to operate under suboptimal and dispersed conditions created by Covid-19 restrictions.


In conclusion, OKR provides a complimentary method for CATs to regularly focus, align, and assess their individual and collective goals. CATs operate in complex, fast-paced operational environments both at home and abroad; fighting the proverbial fire and reacting to change is the norm. OKR can aid CATs in articulating their priorities and ensuring they are meeting their commander's intent. The OKR framework is simple enough to modify based on context but effective enough to provoke critical thinking in planning, prioritizing, and assessing as OKR applies to both operational and personal goals; CATs at home and CMSEs abroad can both apply this framework. This paper is not intended to have OKR replace MOEs/MOPs but rather serve as a tool for CATs to operate more efficiently and effectively within a high operational tempo and a dispersed environment.


For more information on OKR, visit: https://www.whatmatters.com/


Author

Walter Woo is a Civil Affairs Officer serving as the Team Leader for CAT765, Fox Company, 97th Civil Affairs Battalion. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Comparative Politics and Portuguese from the United States Military Academy.


[1] Panchadsaram, Ryan, and Sam Prince. 2019. “What Is an OKR? Definition and Examples.” What Matters. What Matters. December 3, 2019.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] “Joint Operation Planning” Joint Publication 5-0. 2011.

[5] Ibid.


The views and opinions in this article do not represent any entity of the US government or Department of Defense.

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