OKRs work brilliantly. Ask Facebook and Google. Yet, some businesses are reluctant to implement OKRs because they fear a cumbersome, bureaucratic process and opt to stay with inefficient goal-setting practices. Or they try OKRs using a top-down approach, without the necessary tools and operational cadence in place to make them successful.
Using the right approach to implementing OKRs involves ensuring that the process is seen as valuable—from executives all the way down to individual contributors.
The trick is to bake it into the operational rhythm of the company, showing value up and down the chain of command, and involving the key stakeholders (i.e., your entire workforce).
Let’s look at some ways to implement OKRs to ensure they don’t fail.
1. Think whole-team collaboration
The instinctive approach is to have the executive team set company-level OKRs by creating objectives (the what) and defining the key results (the how). Then they use a cascading approach by asking department leader to tie their OKRs directly to the Company level goals, then cascade to the next level, then the next level, and so on.
The executive team needs to set the high level company goals— no question. Cascading from there seems like the right thing to do. However, this traditional top-down model creates some challenges.
Slowing progress: If teams wait for all the cascades to occur throughout the entire organization, the process takes too long, and half the period will be over before they are complete.
Blocking collaboration: OKRs lose credibility when they’re created with limited input from the teams.
When it comes to implementing and writing OKRs, collaboration at every point of the process is critical. You’ve hired smart people that you trust to do the right thing. By providing teams the opportunity to work together, they use their unique knowledge to align their OKRs with company-level objectives.
2. Establish low-risk communication
Employees need a safe, private place where they can discuss their work and hold candid conversations with their teammates (in other words, don’t shoot the messenger!).
When team members don’t feel comfortable providing their honest assessment on KR progress, the whole system fails. There’s a natural reluctance to mark goals as ‘At Risk’, for instance..
However, using a collaborative approach by providing employees the opportunity to give continual feedback on OKRs as work proceeds you get a much better sense of the in-the-trenches perspective that higher-ups are not aware of.
This is where weekly status reports become a valuable resource. Baking in OKR ratings into a part of a consistent operational cadence provides teams with the ability to identify issues early, giving them a chance to course-correct before there’s a problem.
OKRs succeed with Contributor Confidence! Koan creates a low-risk way for contributors to provide their honest assessment—minus the worry.
3. Show employees why their work matters
When employees understand their role and how it pertains to objectives throughout the organization, they're more likely to engage with the work.
Problems arise when specific OKR owners report on progress without acknowledging or supporting team members’ input.
Ultimately, if contributors don’t feel their input and work bring value to the project, even the most well-designed OKRs will crumble. Yes, OKRs are a valuable way in which to identify problems, but they are also an essential vehicle to acknowledge and reward success.
Provide team members the opportunity to reflect and comment on each other’s progress. The open communication will give every contributor a sense of purpose as they collaborate around goals and see the results of their work.
4. Make your OKRs indispensable
OKRs work best when they’re simple and easy to use. If everyone has visibility, can jump in, see updates, and get meaningful feedback instantly—teams will connect and keep moving toward their goals.
OKRs tend to fail when they don’t flow with daily activities. Spreadsheets get buried, and feedback gets lost in email threads. The slightest bump in the workday can disrupt or derail KR progress.
If team members value the OKR framework for its ability to help them solve problems, run productive meetings, and improve their workflow, they’ll find it an indispensable part of their day.
5. Keep your eye on the end-goal
At the end of the quarter (or year), your organization will be closing out your OKRs and celebrating the results.
Often, however, businesses reach the end and wonder why the OKRs didn't work. Maybe it was due to limited communication, and minimal support. It's possible that people ignored the original goals (except for Revenue, of course!), or teams dismissed the goals, saying they weren’t set correctly.
As teams finish their OKRs, take the time to reflect on what worked well and where there are opportunities to do better and learn from the experience.
Without candor and accountability, the end result of an OKR process is meaningless and doesn’t show the growth your teams are making.
Rollout and repeat
Knowing how to implement effective OKRs—by collaborating with all team members, simplifying procedures, providing valuable feedback, and creating a safe environment for employees to honestly assess progress—your OKR rollout will be successful, and your organization will enjoy the benefits of consistent goal achievement.