Some people I talk to aren’t big fans of OKRs. They find them too complicated to put into practice, with teams sticking to their old ways, and too many processes happening all at once in the company. But, what’s the alternative? No rules or organized goal-setting? Well, the alternative is everyone setting their own KPIs and tracking them in different frequencies. This way, you won’t have a clear direction for your company, and you definitely won’t achieve the growth you’re aiming for. That’s why I’ve boiled down 9 steps to implement OKRs effectively. This way, you can have an organization that’s focused on execution, execution is the only way to achieve hypergrowth. Below are 9 tips to bear in mind for a successful OKR implementation.
- Start in top management
For OKRs to stand a chance in your organization, your CEO has to be all in on the idea and willing to invest in it. The CEO can delegate this task to another management team member, like HR (Human Resources), CFO (Chief Financial Officer), CSO (Chief Strategy Officer), or COO (Chief Operating Officer). However, the key is that the initiative must start from the top. I’ve seen companies try OKRs only in, say, the marketing department, and it just doesn’t work. The team is like a lonely island, all by itself, without the help of dependencies and internal support.
- Three levels of goals – the fewer the better
If an employee has 3 company objectives, 3 team objectives, and 3 individual objectives, that adds up to 9 objectives and even more key results to keep track of. Even if the employee is not solely responsible for achieving the company and team objectives, it is still something they need to understand, remember, and keep track of. It’s a common mistake for many companies to have too many objectives and key results. A solid guideline is to limit the objectives on each level to no more than three, with a maximum of 1-6 key results for each.
*McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. The 4 Disciplines of Execution.
- Assign a trusted team
As previously mentioned, the management team should support the implementation of OKRs, ideally with the owner as part of this team. The owner collaborates with a cross-functional group representing the organization. A well-organized team must possess the authority to make decisions and lead. This team is responsible for initiating OKRs, documenting the process, ensuring the structure is followed, communicating progress, and maintaining a holistic view of other ongoing initiatives within the company.
*The team will make sure employees move up the ladder
- Include people working with business as usual
When reading about OKRs in articles, the common advice is for Objectives to be transformational. However, many organizations are driven by established processes also called “Business as usual” and may overlook the majority of employees by only focusing on transformational initiatives. Business as usual is the bread and butter of the company today and is crucial for your survival and will be funding the transformational initiatives. Relying on transformational objectives leaves a lot of employees feeling disconnected. This is a critical mistake; essential operations must not be neglected. Include Objectives where people who work with business as usual. These ensure alignment across the entire company, fostering engagement and preventing the sense of exclusion that can arise with a solely project-focused approach.
*Employees working on all horizons need to be included
- Encourage Stretch Goals
If you hit all of your goals you probably set too easy goals. Instead, you should foster a culture where you set stretch goals, it is okay to not reach all of them. Setting stretch goals encourages innovation, pushing teams beyond their current capabilities. It also enhances motivation, turning goals into inspirational forces that drive employee dedication. They also guard against mediocre performance, urging employees to exceed minimum requirements.
- Have a holistic approach to OKRs
OKRs are not an isolated island, they should not occur in isolation but rather as one component among various initiatives within a company. Other strategic occurrences, such as vision and long-term planning, as well as the budget process, will also be ongoing. Companies typically conduct appraisals and salary reviews, which may operate outside the OKR process. Implementing OKRs requires a holistic perspective, with a clear process defining when activities occur, the order of operations, assigned responsibilities, and the desired outcomes. The proposed schedule need not be overly complex; having a clear, consistent process facilitates employee understanding, allowing for iterative improvements over time.
- Use a software
If your company is very small or just starting out, using PowerPoint and Excel for managing your OKRs might be sufficient initially. However, achieving goals is primarily about execution, and genuine collaboration among your employees won’t thrive through a spreadsheet. To facilitate effective execution, address dependencies among teams, and allocate resources, having dedicated software is essential. With such a tool, you can first establish the right Objectives & Key Results and then seamlessly translate these goals into tangible actions.
- Establish Check-in routines to track progress
Organizations must understand what’s expected from them in the OKR process. Whether using software or a spreadsheet, clarity on update frequency is key. For teams working in sprints, integrating OKRs into these sprints during stand-up meetings is beneficial, ensuring continuous documentation of progress. Teams without sprints can incorporate progress tracking seamlessly into regular team meetings, making it a natural part of their daily responsibilities. The key is to align the rhythm of OKR updates with the team’s existing workflow for optimal integration and effectiveness.
- Make it fun for employees to work with OKRs
If you launch OKRs, you need to understand that different people will have varying engagement levels. How can you make this change fun and exciting for people? Is it a kick-off event launching new ways of working? Is it a platform with a high level of gamification? Is it about recognizing and rewarding people? Is it about training and workshops? People want to feel included and be able to contribute to the process. Knowing what often excites your people, rather than overwhelms them, can create a fun and engaging experience. People will have no objections to filling out progress and being a part of the process if they are onboard.
Access Sophie’s OKR Template here.