Successfully adopting the objectives and key results (OKR) framework takes time, but when it’s done right, the benefits of tracking OKRs can be seen at every level of the company. To successfully roll out an OKR program, there are crucial steps that need to be taken along the way. Here’s our guidance on getting started.
Program implementation starts with the executive team. You’ll need to make sure the founder/CEO and executive team are fully bought in to making OKR implementation a priority.
Who will be involved in the OKR program:
Executive Sponsorship: A member of the executive leadership team who is passionate about OKRs and provides strong backing from the top.
OKR Champion: (Could be a corporate strategy leader, head of human resources, chief of staff or even a team manager) Spearheads the adoption of the OKR framework within an organization, communicating its value and driving progress from the top.
Team Leadership “Ambassadors”: These are the individuals leading teams – from C-level executives and senior leadership to directors and department managers.
Individual Team Members: Individual employees within a company.
When you roll out an OKR program successfully, there will be a cultural shift at your organization to an environment that is goal-oriented, with your objectives driving day-to-day work. For this to happen, leadership must be bought-in to the program and drive decisions and execute with OKRs top of mind.
OKRs are used by leadership to select the best course of action to support business goals. They closely tie strategy and goals to an internal measurement system and incorporate top-to-bottom company involvement and commitment.
The methodology, popularized by John Doerr and used by countless organizations around the world, improves employee motivation and involvement, improves communication with period progress reviews, gives you clarity on goals that are documented, measurable and defined, and creates organizational commitment with mutual accountability.
Your OKR champion will own the success of your company’s OKR program and lead the rollout. The champion should be coordinating colleague training to make sure there is a deep understanding of the OKR methodology and best practices. The champion will also build advocacy and drive program participation at all levels of the organization. This role will support the execution of the OKR program while acting as a conduit with other team ambassadors.
OKR champions should communicate the value and benefits of everyone understanding each other’s objectives and work, regardless of level or role. They should be setting the stage for open communication and continuous feedback from teams, managers and executives and help to overcome challenges and remove roadblocks.
Champions should communicate expectations for the OKR program rhythm to leaders, teams and individuals. This means establishing the cadence and timeline of the OKR program — will your company do monthly OKR review meetings/when will you start annual planning etc.
It’s vital to continue to stress the importance of OKR alignment and execution of related work throughout OKR cycles. Champions help drive understanding of the integration of OKRs into work and that they should not just be an incremental task.
Lastly, OKR champions should encourage momentum and innovation and celebrate program successes. Acknowledging when goals are met is an important part of the process.
OKRs offer huge benefits for team managers:
The team manager or “ambassador” will be the teacher and advocate of OKRs within their team. They’ll help teams stay proactive and mitigate risks of falling behind on OKRs. They help their team achieve their goals, stay focused and eliminate roadblocks that may be in the way.
In this role, team managers should be running effective OKR meetings, which include weekly or biweekly 1:1s and monthly OKRs reviews. They will also lead quarterly team OKR reviews and communicate OKR status changes to leadership.
Planning is key when it comes to rolling out OKRs. Before you can do so, it’s important to have an OKR program champion and get executive level commitment. From there, the company needs to define the different levels of OKRs that will be rolled out, the planning cadence and lastly, getting started with company-level OKRs.
Annual company-level OKRs should be connected to your organization’s mission, vision and values. Defining and clarifying your mission, vision and values is crucial in creating a successful OKR program and company culture that is centered around goals.
Before getting started with writing OKRs, make sure the executive team has a clear understanding of these three pieces.
Your mission is why your organization exists at the deepest level. The mission is aspirational and explains who benefits from your company and how. It is meant to motivate and inspire the organization’s day to day work.
Your organization’s vision is your ambitious dream of what the future of your company will look like and includes key metrics that define what future success would look like.
Values are the shared beliefs on how your organization should operate. Values create boundaries on how your company will reach their vision. They inform execution initiatives and business strategy.
Once you’ve established these three elements, you can move forward with company-level OKRs.
There are two typical ways you can roll out and cascade objectives across the company.
With the duality method, leadership creates an objective at the company level, with a key result beneath it. That key result becomes the objective of the next level department or stakeholder. This creates strong, direct alignment between the company level OKRs and every department, team, and individual in the company.
Company level OKRs are shared, and teams and individuals are given the flexibility to define OKRs that will best align and accomplish the goals of the company.
Take a look at our OKR examples for every level of the organization to get a jump start on your OKR program.Read now
It’s important that everyone involved in the OKR program — leadership down to every employee — is trained on the OKR framework and knows what the expectations, process and roles will be for the program.
OKR champions should hold workshops on writing OKRs and explain the value of OKRs as more than just another task to complete.
OKR champions should also stress the importance of weekly and monthly meetings to maintain focus and engagement.
It’s also important to emphasize that you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t be, reaching your goals 100% of the time. Some of them will be stretch goals that may roll over from quarter to quarter. Your objectives should challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and management should not expect individuals to reach these “moonshot” goals every time.
Lastly, make sure to celebrate successes. Consider holding a “Friday wins” meeting where teams can share their professional and personal wins for the week. This is a great way to get teams together at the end of the week and start the weekend on a positive note.
This part of the process is driven by a top-down approach, but should also include collaboration and team direction.
When cascading company goals down to team goals, senior leadership will communicate company OKRs to managers. Managers will then define team OKRs in alignment with company OKRs and confirm those with senior leadership. OKR champions will also assist in communicating and coaching on the content and measurability of the OKRs.
Creating individual OKRs should be a collaborative process that includes individual input. It starts with individuals digesting team OKRs and responding with their individual OKRs. Managers will then review and iterate OKRs with team members. OKRs are then reviewed and organized to ensure organizational alignment.
Within their OKRs, individuals should add projects and task lists so that employees make sure they are not confusing the output (projects/tasks) with the outcome (goals). While objectives are “what we are going to do” key results and projects are “how we are going to do it.”
By adding task lists within OKRs, individuals can also show task progress even when there is not noticeable progress of their OKRs.
Adding the additional layers of projects and tasks allows for greater traceability of the work being accomplished.
When rolling out OKRs, collaboration and refinement are critical to make sure outcomes are aligned throughout the organization. Make sure individual goals are aligning with team goals, and that those both are in alignment with the company’s goals. Keep in mind horizontal alignment as well. Does the marketing team depend on the product team to reach their objective? Take into account inter-team dependencies and make sure the product marketing team’s priorities are also the product team’s priorities so that no team is working in a silo. Alignment of team goals are extremely important in making sure that every team is working toward the company’s most important goals at the same time and in the same order so that there is no confusion on what work needs to get done.
It’s also important to capture and understand resourcing and allocation. Leaders need to assess if teams have the appropriate resources to achieve their goals, and if not, what adjustments need to be made to make that happen. Adjustments could include editing and refining the objective, or making sure that the objective is the most important priority for the team and eliminating other work that can be reprioritized.
Determine how you will roll out your OKR program. Will you be rolling out to the entire company or will you try a pilot program in a specific department?
If you’re rolling out OKRs across an organization, start at the company and team level first. This way, individuals can get familiar with the process before they have to start using it themselves. Leadership needs to show individual employees the value of an OKR program and why they should be invested in it before employees begin their own OKR cycles. If employees think of OKRs as just another task that management is asking them to complete, and don’t see the benefits, they will have a harder time adopting the framework. This is why once you want to get individuals involved in the OKR program, we recommend only assigning them one or two OKRs to begin with. These could even be personal goals such as learning a new skill so that they get into the rhythm of regular OKR check ins. From there, once they are given higher level OKRs, they already know how to use them to drive the work they need to focus on. Adoption in the beginning is crucial for a successful OKR program. Make sure everyone in your OKR program understands how they will benefit from using the framework.
Leaders should be sharing company OKR updates on a regular basis with the entire organization. It’s important that everyone in the company knows exactly what the company’s goals are and how they are doing at reaching them. This can be accomplished by discussing company goals and objectives at team and company-wide meetings. Let your teams know what the company is thinking, why you made the shifts you did and what you want the results to be. At the end of the quarter and/or year, it’s also important to discuss as a company what went well, what didn’t and how you will move forward. These conversations encourage collaboration and communication to make sure everyone is on the same page. We also recommend companies develop an internal training document that describes why the company is using OKRs and how they use them. This is a helpful tool for new employee onboarding and general references.
Regular 1:1s between managers and individuals assure that employees are staying on the right track with their goals. Managers and direct reports can decide which cadence works best for them, whether it’s weekly or biweekly. These 1:1s should be framed with OKRs so that the meeting doesn’t get sidetracked with less important tasks. These meetings should encourage a transparent environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their goal progress. This is a good opportunity for managers and employees to talk about what’s going well and what’s not, so that at-risk OKRs can be addressed in an efficient manner.
Commitment and reinforcement are vital to the success of an OKR program. There’s a lot that goes into making OKRs work, but when they do work, it’s easy to see why global companies like Google and Microsoft use them.
Here are a few ways to make sure you’re on the right track:
If this is your first time rolling out OKRs, remember that almost no one is perfect on the first try and that commitment and iteration is key. Our customer success team is also here to help.