I like to compare OKR success to getting in better shape. It takes commitment, time, continuous effort, and practice. You can’t put in a half-hearted effort with objectives and key results, or working out, and expect long-term results.
Developing a results/returns-driven OKR program starts with setting the right expectations. It is not something you’ll be able to adopt overnight and will take some time and experience to get the hang of. Working with our customers on a regular basis, I’ve found that the most successful goal programs have the following: OKR champion(s), executive and HR sponsorship, OKR rhythm and meetings, and cultural buy-in.
If you’re ready to do what it takes to implement a successful program at your company and see the long-term benefits, here’s what I recommend.
It’s important to have at least one individual that is pushing the OKR process forward at the company. The OKR champion, or champion team, is the person or team who will help manage OKR tracking and set up the rhythm for the business. These individuals will answer questions regarding when strategic objectives should be finalized for a certain set of time, when people should be checking in, when OKRs should be closed out, who should be meeting about them, and when they should be meeting. This person or team will track the progress and engagement of all employees that are contributing to the company’s OKRs.
[Read more: OKR Questions]
When it comes to who your champions should be, it depends. Some have different job titles and take on the champion role as a project, while I’ve seen large companies have people that are solely dedicated to OKR management. These individuals are usually program managers and part of the HR team. For smaller companies, champions could also be executive assistants.
Champions do not need to be experts on the OKR methodology when they take on this role. What they do need to have is the drive to learn more about OKR best practices and understand the rhythm of the goal framework.
OKR champions are not only leading best practices for the program, they are also managing engagement of everyone involved. If the program isn’t progressing along, the champion should feel comfortable stepping in to provide more guidance.
In order for objectives to progress at a company, you need an executive and/or HR leader that is helping promote the program. You also need buy-in from executives and HR leaders.
If OKRs are being done the right way at the top level, everyone else is going to follow suit. If the executive team has a consistent rhythm and engagement with OKRs, teams and individuals will be motivated to contribute at a high level. It’s a much more powerful experience when executives are talking highly of the goal program and promoting them internally. If executives are engaged and talking positively about OKRs and why they are important to the company, you’re going to see that waterfall effect down to team managers and individual contributors.
Excitement about the goal program is contagious and starts at the top. Lead by example with regular updates and active OKR communications.
It’s important to have a regular meeting cadence and put strategic objectives at the forefront of those meetings.
Organization-level OKRs should be discussed on a monthly basis. Leaders should talk about progress, behind and at-risk objectives, who needs support, and how you’re going to get the objectives to where they need to be. Come out of meetings with action items and a clear understanding of who is responsible for each.
Teams should be meeting biweekly to check in on progress. If it’s mid-quarter and you’re having a meeting with your team and the OKRs aren’t what you need to be talking about, then they probably shouldn’t be OKRs.
As for 1:1s, managers and individual contributors should meet weekly or biweekly to talk about goal progress and where extra support may be needed. These 1:1s keep goals top of mind. If you are an individual contributor going into a meeting with your manager and they say you’re not doing x,y,z, it’s important to bring up what was mapped out as the focus at the beginning of the quarter and remember that those OKRs are where time should be focused.
There should be a desire to incorporate OKRs into the company culture. This won’t happen right away, but is something you should be striving for. If you want long-term ROI, the goal management program has to be part of the culture. New hire training, meetings, and discussions are all important ways to incorporate OKRs into the business rhythm.
A lot of companies will start with executives or just one team when introducing OKRs. That doesn’t mean you need every executive at the company to be bought in right away, but you need the leader of the team using the goal framework to be bought in and speaking about it.
When it comes to individual contributors, they may be asking what’s in it for them. OKRs really help push the company in the right direction, which sounds really good to execs and people managing the process. So why are these strategic objectives important for individual contributors?
Let’s look at the big picture first. Organization-level OKRs are created with the company’s mission and vision in mind. This takes time, commitment, and effort to create.
When OKRs are done well, there will be alignment from the individual level to the team level, and from the team level to the organization level.
Aligning everything you do on a daily basis to the mission and vision of the company is very powerful. You have a hand in how things are moving forward at every level, and reiterating that to individual contributors is motivational. When individuals are focused on their OKRs, they are doing the right work for themselves, the team, and the company.
When you can incorporate these four factors for success into your company, you’ll find that an OKR rhythm will start to exist. The high-powered locomotive that was gaining power and speed for the first few quarters is now operating at the speed of your business.
OKRs will be finalized on time, they’ll be checked in on and updated on a regular basis, support will be directed to objectives that are falling behind, and OKRs will be closed and scored on time. That locomotive will only operate with more power and speed as you learn from previous time periods and write stronger OKRs at the organization, team, and individual level.
Remember, it takes time and commitment to do OKRs well. It’s not just one person’s responsibility, the program needs to incorporate everyone at the company, or at least strive to incorporate everyone. An effective goal program is something that takes continuous work, but is well worth the ROI you’ll see long term.
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