April 19, 2021

When to change goals mid-cycle to get your team on track 

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
Director of Strategic Services at

By the time the first day of the quarter (or work cycle) has arrived, your company’s goals should already be set. Why? We always emphasize starting the planning process in the last month of the previous period so that your team is prepared to hit the ground running.

When you plan in advance, your team can know exactly what is expected of them for the cycle ahead and where they need to focus their efforts.

In an ideal world, your team will be able to follow these targets the entire period, moving toward reaching their goals and achieving them without any adjustments. That’s how it should work every time – you plan, and then the plans get achieved. Magic, right? 

We all wish it could be this easy every time, however the dynamism of business and execution means that changes happen — new needs and projects arise, supply chain disruptions occur, and suddenly you realize that your team’s goals may need to shift.

The beauty in OKRs is that you can change them mid-cycle if you need to. In this blog post, I’ll discuss:

  • When you should make mid-cycle changes to your goals and targets
  • What you should do with left-field/unforeseen disruptions and needs 
  • What to do when teams are starting to fall short of goals
  • Best practices for executing changes and communicating to the appropriate stakeholders

When should we make mid-cycle changes to our goals and targets?

You should make mid-cycle changes to your goals when:

1. A more important priority arises and the current goal will no longer receive the attention or bandwidth required to make meaningful progress.

2. It becomes clear that the goal was not desirable, economically viable, or feasible.

3. When you uncover an insight that suggests the goal should be adjusted.

You set a goal to launch a new sales enablement tool in the NE USA by a certain date, but realize that the team is not ready to adopt new technology or maybe the technology wasn’t the optimal solution in the first place. Or, you realized that you were focused on a less opportune segment of the market.

In this case, you might adjust the goal to start a new project, stop the existing one, or continue with some sort of adjustment to project scope.

Another real-life example is when a client recently set a goal around launching a new innovation project in a specific segment, but then decided to acquire another company in said segment a few weeks into the quarter. In this case, the OKR was closed. 

What should we do with left-field/unforeseen disruptions?

Unforeseen and unexpected events should lead to a discussion between the objective owner and key members of their management chain to confirm prioritization in lieu of this event.

For example, a supply chain disruption could mean that you won’t be able to hit your fulfillment targets as expected. In this case you have two options:

  • You could adjust your fulfillment forecasts and cascade these changes to all OKRs that are impacted by it.
  • You could hold the goals steady, but then spend time thinking about how to fill the gap / achieve the goal in lieu of the limitation (many great innovations have been discovered amid limitations).

Just like above, consider re-prioritizing your objectives, which might potentially lead to the closing or postponement of a goal. 

What happens when teams are starting to fall short of goals? 

You have a few options when teams start falling short of goals.

Depending on the nature of the goals (aspirational or committed), you could remind your team that pursuing goals is about learning so that you can be even better next time. This is especially true for aspirational goals. Doubling down on intellectual safety and giving people permission to fail can be a really great way to empower creativity in your ranks.

For committed goals in particular, you can still focus on learning and discovery, but with an even greater focus on making immediate adjustments to rapidly change the goal’s trajectory.

Example (applies to both committed and aspirational goals): “OK, our sales numbers are way off. This is obviously not ideal, but let’s spend some time just focusing on how we’ve gotten here. Let’s break this down into: People/Culture, Process, Technology, Data, and Market and list out what’s going well, and what could be better for each category.”

From there you can start to identify “quick wins” that could help bring initiatives back on track. You might also discover other more fundamental challenges that need to be resolved over time (for example, lack of access to clean and reliable data, the need to hire more people, etc.).

Above all else, when your team is demoralized, remind them of what they have accomplished and what is going well. One of my favorite things to say is: “OK, you got to 40%. Let’s talk about filling that gap to 100% in a moment, but first: what did you do to even get to 40% in the first place?” 

What are best practices for executing changes and communicating to the appropriate stakeholders?

Keep communications focused on learning over judgement (again, lots of nuance here, and sometimes you certainly do need to take a more hard-line approach). When you make a change, make sure you have a clearly-articulated, succinct rationale for the adjustment — why did we make the change? What value are we trying to achieve with this new approach? What will we NOT do?

Changes mid-cycle can feel like progress towards goals are being jeopardized. This is not necessarily true. The ability to make adjustments mid-quarter is precisely why we recommend doing check-ins on a regular basis — far better for you to make a change in the middle of the quarter, instead of continuing down a path set up to fail until the beginning of the next cycle.

Instead of viewing a change as a failure, view it as an opportunity to stay focused on outcomes and not just outputs.


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