November 13, 2020

2021 Annual Planning with OKRs

Marilyn Napier
Marilyn Napier

What a year it’s been. We don’t need to tell you what 2020 has been like, or how to feel about it. We can probably safely assume we are all on the same page about this past year. So what’s 2021 looking like? There’s no way to know exactly, but what we do know is that planning ahead and having a clear roadmap for the new year is more important than ever.

The power in OKRs is that when your organization’s priorities are truly defined and aligned from the company’s annual goals down to individual quarterly goals, you’ll be able to accomplish your most ambitious plans. And if unexpected changes happen, your organization will have the ability to adjust and adapt more efficiently when everyone knows what the most important work needs to be to drive the business forward.

Annual planning isn’t going to just happen in one leadership meeting. It’s going to take some time to map out, but it will be well worth it in preparing your teams for the next year ahead.

Here’s what we recommend to get started:

1-3 months prior to 2021

Who needs to be involved: Executives/senior-level leadership

What needs to happen: For smaller companies with OKR experience, we recommend leadership start annual planning four to six weeks before the start of the new year.  For larger companies, or companies without OKR experience, we recommend that executives and senior-level leadership begin meeting and discussing annual company goals for 2021 two to three months prior to the start of the year. This will also be the time to discuss first quarter company goals as well.

Reflection before creation 

Just like you do on a quarterly basis, it’s important to reflect on this past year’s annual goals before you begin developing new goals for 2021. If all of the annual goals your organization implemented a year ago still hold true today, congrats! You’re definitely in the minority. If you’re like most organizations, you probably had to pivot some of your annual OKRs to fit the new mold that COVID forced us into.

When reflecting on the past year’s annual goals, make sure to ask these questions:

  • Which goals are not applicable right now? E.g. in-person events
  • How much did COVID affect our completion of annual goals?
  • Which goals do we want to roll over for the new year?
  • What have we learned from the goals we didn’t reach?
  • Did we write good OKRs? If not, how do we improve upon that for the new year?

Make sure you’re also celebrating your wins for the year and reflecting on everything you’ve accomplished.

[Read More: OKR Questions]

If there’s one takeaway you should have regarding OKRs, it’s that they are always a learning experience. Even if you hit 100% on an OKR, there’s always something you can take away from it.

These discussions on annual planning may not just be one or two discussions, and it might take a few weeks. Be realistic about how much time this will take and the key stakeholders that need to be involved in the decision making.

Creating annual OKRs

Keep in mind what OKRs are and what they aren’t. (Check out our list of OKR examples by department here) 

Annual company-level OKRs should be connected to your organization’s mission, vision and values. Knowing where you are going and how you’re going to get there is the key to success for organizations, as well as for individuals.

Your organization’s mission is your reason for being. It’s what the company does, who benefits and how they benefit. The mission maintains a focus on day-to-day activities and motivates and inspires the organization.

The vision is an audacious dream of a future reality based on the success of the work you do.

Lastly, values create a sense of purpose around mission and vision. They are the shared beliefs that define how your organization conducts business. They also inform both business strategy and execution initiatives.

Just like for quarterly OKRs, your annual OKRs should be three to five objectives that describe “what” needs to be achieved. They are qualitative, actionable, ambitious and time bound. Each objective should have three to five measurable key results.

OKRs aren’t:

  • Unrealistic or ambiguous goals
  • Task lists
  • General actions you plan to take
  • Overly specific to be constraining

For more on writing OKRs, check out our guide on how to write great OKRs for a team here.

1 month prior to 2021

Who is involved: Executive leadership and team leaders 

What needs to happen: By December, executive leadership should communicate with directors and team leaders on annual company-level goals and how those will align with the team’s quarterly goals. Discussion with team leaders is key to ensuring every team understands the priorities and focus for the upcoming year.

If team leaders need more training on OKRs, this is an ideal time to make sure they have the support and coaching they need on OKR best practices. Plan to run interactive workshops to help engage and educate teams during this time if they are not already familiar with the OKR framework. A refresher also never hurts! 

First few weeks of 2021/new quarter

Who is involved: The entire company

What needs to happen: In the first few weeks of 2021 and the new quarter, team leaders should roll out Q1 team OKRs, making sure to communicate the right expectations for the upcoming quarter. This is the time to start scheduling regular check-ins throughout the quarter and plan for a mid-quarter review, as well as time for everyone to score and review OKRs at the end of the quarter. The cycle repeats itself each quarter, with team and company-level quarterly OKRs always keeping alignment with the company’s annual goals.

Annual planning might feel harder this year as you try to really assess how this past year went and where you go from here. Don’t be intimidated. You now have the steps you need to make 2021 your organization’s most prepared year yet.

And lastly, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Our team at is always here to help assist you in making sure your organization is successful with OKRs and sees the full benefits of using them.

For more on annual planning, download our 2021 Annual Planning with OKRs guide here.

Recent Articles

Project Planning: Why It’s So Hard (And How to Get It Right)

You’ve heard the saying that “all good things take time,”…

Read Now

5 ways to connect your team’s daily work to business goals

Our Head of Strategic Services, Michael Davis, says objectives and…

Read Now

How to be a great OKR champion in 10 steps

An OKR champion is key to a successful OKR rollout…

Read Now

Featured Content

© 2022 All rights reserved  |   Privacy Policy  |   Terms of Service  |   Security