July 12, 2021

How to stay agile with OKRs

Kevin Shively
Kevin Shively
VP of Marketing at

Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a simple process, but they’re hard to get right on the first try. If you’re new to OKRs or struggling with unmet objectives, know that it’s perfectly normal to need to adjust your original plan. Most importantly, rest assured that there are tried and true ways to get back on track.

In our recent webinar, Michael Davis (Head of Strategic Services here at Ally) spoke with Atruity President & CEO, Tim Meinhardt, on how to stay agile with OKRs, especially in a world where things are moving fast and changing quickly. As an expert OKR implementation consultant, Tim promises that you will get better at writing and executing OKRs, as long as you “learn forward.”

Let’s look at what Tim means by that, as well as the most frequent factors that cause OKRs to fail, and how you can get back on track when things go awry.

When to change goals mid-cycle

“Just because you set a goal doesn’t mean it has to stay set in stone,” assures Michael. These are three situations that are likely to come up that will require a change in goals, even after they’ve been set:

  1. A more important (or advantageous) priority arises
  2. It becomes clear the goal was not desirable, economically viable, or feasible
  3. You uncover an insight that suggests the goal should be adjusted

In the first few weeks of an OKR period, it’s completely reasonable to adjust your objectives and key results when one – or more – of the above situations presents itself. The faster you identify these scenarios and adjust accordingly, the quicker you can get back to getting the work done.

However, Tim warns that at a certain point (usually after 6 weeks into the quarter), it’s better to drop a goal and focus on what you can get done, than to spend the energy and time trying to force it to work for you. This is what he calls “learning forward.” It’s recognizing that every quarter you will get a little bit better at writing OKRs that fit, but in the meantime, it’s not a perfect science.

Reasons OKRs don’t succeed

In the spirit of learning forward, Michael and Tim compiled the reasons for OKR failure that they see most frequently, so you can learn from the mistakes of others. Keep an eye out for these so your organization can have a better chance at OKR success.

OKRs fail when:

  • They’re too complicated. Simple is better, and less is more. Keep goals controllable and within a specifically defined scope.
  • They’re disconnected from the broader mission or strategy of the company. Daily tasks need to clearly connect to overarching goals and strategies to drive engagement and alignment across the organization.
  • There’s bad planning. Planning should be outcome-oriented, not output-oriented. Your key results are critical in helping you break down your goals into manageable pieces.
  • They’re anchored on only one person’s idea. Don’t set goals in a vacuum – it should be a collaborative process.
  • There’s limited buy-in. If there’s not strong buy-in, sit down with your employees and figure out what’s missing from the vision for them. Invite feedback early on.
  • There’s a lack of visibility and transparency. Every individual in your company should be able to view your plan for success – your OKRs – daily.
  • There’s mismanagement. Buy-in isn’t static; it needs to be nurtured over time.

Remember, OKRs are a journey, not a destination. Your program will evolve and improve over time if you remain agile, so don’t be disheartened when you run up against setbacks.

How to get back on track

There’s no need to wallow in unharmonious OKRs or give up on the process, because there are ways to get back on track. When you do, your organization will reap the incredible benefits of OKRs, and all the challenges will be worth the effort.

First, revisit the fundamental elements of your program. Michael advises organizations to think back to what they originally set out to achieve and be honest about whether it’s still the right focus. Is it in line with mission, vision, and values? Will it help your business – or your team – reach the next level of success? If not, it may be necessary to go back to the drawing board.

Next, leverage a software platform, like Ally, that will anchor you to your goals. It’s easier when everything’s in one place so there is transparency, accountability, and alignment across your organization.

If you’re still feeling like you’re just not getting it right, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Our partners at Atruity guide organizations through the implementation process and stick when them afterward to drive long-term results.

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