We’ve seen and assisted organizations at various stages of their OKR journeys. Every company is unique, but we’ve noticed several common mistakes to avoid when rolling out and scaling your OKR program.
The best way to implement OKRs for the entire organization is to do a gradual rollout. For small-to-medium sized businesses, start with the executive team. For a large corporation, OKRs could also be tested within a specific department. During this testing period, have your team assess the process and OKR cycle to identify what works, what doesn’t and how to improve for scale. Depending on your organization’s knowledge of OKRs, a rollout can take two to three quarters to cascade down to individuals.
First start with team-level OKRs rolling up to company level OKRs. Then, once everyone has a strong understanding of the methodology, assign only one or two OKRs to individuals for the first time. These can be personal OKRs like learning a new skill so that team members can get familiar with the OKR process.
Mixing in personal goals in the beginning will also build excitement on adoption. It shows how team members are contributing at the company level and lets them see the transparency. If you don’t have adoption in the beginning, team members may view OKRs as just another task instead of something that is incorporated into the daily workflow.
You can’t have OKRs without some form of tracking and measuring. When some companies start with OKRs, they may use PowerPoint or Excel, others use templates they found online. Either way, you need to have a unified way of documenting OKRs and making updates.
Key word of advice: Document your OKRs in a cloud-based workflow, something that is updated in real time. This will increase visibility across the organization so everyone can see progress in real time.
All OKRs, no matter if they are committed or aspirational, need to have measurable outcomes. Remember that an objective is “what” needs to be achieved and the key result is “how” you are going to achieve something measurable. OKRs should not be a list of tasks, but instead, time bound, actionable and measurable outcomes you want to achieve. For example, if you have a marketing objective of “reach profitability by end of fiscal year” instead of a key result of “increase ARR by Q4,” make sure the key result is quantifiable, for example, “increase ARR to $7.8M by Q4.” This data driven approach makes sure that goals aren’t ambiguous and that there is no confusion on what it means to achieve them.
You shouldn’t be “setting and forgetting” your OKRs. OKRs allow for transparency and alignment throughout an organization, but the only way to truly see the full benefit is to make sure your team is doing weekly or biweekly check ins to make sure everything is up-to-date. This also sets up OKRs to be baked into regular meetings and to be what drives meetings. When you are running meetings based on OKRs, you’ll be able to stay on track and prioritize the work that is most important to the company.
One of the other great benefits of OKRs is that they are flexible and revisable. If you set an annual OKR and you realize halfway through the year there’s no way you’re going to achieve it, pivot and revise that OKR to something more realistic.
There are two types of OKRs: committed and aspirational. Committed OKRs are goals that will be achieved, while aspirational, or stretch, goals are more ambitious and can be rolled over quarter to quarter or year to year. If you find you’re achieving your OKRs 100% of the time, it’s more likely that they are a list of tasks rather than actual OKRs. Objectives and key results should encourage everyone to think big. They should be aggressive goals that push individuals and the team as a whole.
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