OKR FAQs: Common Questions About Objectives and Key Results
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about the OKR Methodology
OKRs are a major change to operations. Building a culture around reaching your strategic objectives requires time, buy-in, and dedication. As we’ve worked with hundreds of organizations to implement and scale OKRs, these are the questions that come up the most.
Who should own our OKRs? Should one person be in charge of OKRs in our organization?
Several roles are involved in an effective OKR program.
An OKR executive sponsor could be a CEO or another C-level executive who is passionate about OKR implementation. They are supportive of the program to accomplish the objectives identified and will help to evolve the program over time.
An OKR program manager is responsible to work with leadership to define the OKR program, developing and leading communication strategy, overseeing training activities, and coordinating the overall rollout and subsequent execution of the OKRs program. They are also responsible for holding everyone accountable for the completion of OKRs.
OKR Champions support the successful implementation of the methodology, ensuring that OKRs are written correctly and aligned across the organization with minimum duplication or conflict.
Each OKR lead is accountable for updating the metrics and keeping the team on track to push the OKR forward.
What’s the best way to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows how to use OKRs within the organization?
There are multiple ways of interpreting and applying OKRs, and people may have a lot of questions about how they will be used in the organization. OKRs are all about transparency, and hiding them away makes it impossible to build accountability or alignment. In order to make sure that everyone is on the same page across the organization, we encourage you to develop a playbook and share OKRs publicly to create visibility across the implementation.
How do tasks fit into OKRs?
Key Results aren’t tasks. Remember, Key Results describe the optimal outcome that needs to be accomplished in order to complete the objective but don’t constrain how it might be achieved. The metrics in a Key Result should be quantifiable outcomes and not individual tasks. The plan on how to achieve the Key Result can include specific tasks, but overspecifying it will limit how plans can change as new information becomes available.
What is the difference between OKRs and KPIs?
The biggest differentiator between OKRs and KPIs is the drive towards an outcome as opposed to an action. KPIs can have some level of action plans associated with them, but they’re generally about taking a task and doing it more efficiently. OKRs are focused entirely on outcomes, the results that need to be achieved. While KPIs focus on individual aspects of a team’s duties, OKRs allow for teams to solve bigger issues, extend past existing practices, and take moonshots without losing sight of the minutia.
Should executives write OKRs for the entire organization?
There should be multiple layers of OKRs, including team-led OKRs, company-wide OKRs, and possibly OKRs from each department thrown in for good measure. Executives should set top-level goals to align the organization, but support teams at every level in defining OKRs that support and advance the overarching vision. Not all OKRs within the organization will align to the company-level, though, and that's okay.
Should my OKRs be realistic or should they be difficult to achieve?
Your OKRs should be set with the intent of pushing your team to solve a problem or advance your position. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and what might work well for one company might not end up working out for another. Important questions to ask are, “What could we do in the next quarter that would have the biggest impact on our company?” or “What are the big, hairy, audacious goals that we need to set in order to have an outsized impact on the direction that you’re headed in?”
But what if there’s an OKR we can’t afford to miss?
It’s important to strike a balance between aspirational and commit goals. While no OKRs should be easy, balancing the two will challenge employees but also make sure they feel like they are contributing to the broader goals of the organization.
How many OKRs should I create?
Some organizations attempt to capture all of their work and projects in OKRs. Organizations, teams, and people that split time between too many objectives are less focused on the ones that really matter, and we encourage our customers to have 2-4 Objectives and 3-5 Key Results per Objective.
Should I have individual OKRs?
Individual OKRs can either promote personal growth or derail and distract from an otherwise-healthy OKR process. On their face, there’s nothing wrong with setting individual OKRs but the problem comes when individual OKRs get tied to performance reviews. Tying individual OKRs to compensation or advancement causes team members to set goals that they know they can hit. This trickles up to the team and eventually the company itself, and unless your individual OKRs are set only as aspirational attempts at self-improvement, it’s best to avoid them.
Can I have non-quarterly goals?
Absolutely. Annual goals are good aspirations that can set the tone for an entire year but are difficult to track progress over such a long period of time. Monthly goals can work well, although there might not be enough time to fully see progress. That said, we recommend sticking with a quarterly cadence so that you have time to both see the impact of your initiative and to course-correct when things aren’t going well. Quarterly targets provide a shorter cycle that lets teams see results faster without sacrificing their ability to experiment and make changes.
Should we cascade our OKRs across the entire organization? Won’t this help with alignment?
It's tempting to cascade OKRs down through the organization. But if all your goals fit together into a perfect parent/child tree, teams almost by definition aren’t thinking creatively, taking risks, or showing initiative, and alignment and collective buy-in suffer as a result.Ultimately, you want to create a process where teams feel empowered to create OKRs that generally support company goals, without limiting the creative thinking and informed risk-taking needed to drive the business forward.
Some leaders are uncomfortable sharing their OKRs publicly? What’s the best way to address that?
OKRs are about transparency, and hiding them away makes it impossible to build accountability or alignment. In order to help your team build an open, well-aligned mindset, it is essential that you create as much transparency as possible around the company values and expectations. The values of your business should define the way that your team members work towards their goals; when team members work with the insight of the company values behind them, you’re going to find yourself with some highly motivated people on your hands.
Learning from OKRs
Can we change our goals after we set them?
Sometimes, key results aren’t set correctly, or an emergency requires a shift in focus. This is a common occurrence, and OKRs shouldn’t be chiseled in stone. At Koan we like to use the phrase: “We reserve the right to be smarter at any time.” Business is dynamic, and you have to be flexible in order to meet the current need. Embrace the change, and re-assess if you should modify the goals going forward.
Is it important to use software to track OKRs or can I do this in a spreadsheet?
OKRs can be set in a spreadsheet and tracked there. However, spreadsheets silo access and prevent your teams from deeply aligning their goals. They also don't scale well and can get messy or forgotten about. Dedicated tracking software makes it easy for each team to see what the rest of the company is working on, ultimately increasing accountability and alignment.
How can I make sure all of my OKRs are kept up-to-date?
Teams should establish a regular cadence of check-ins to keep their goals up to date. Too often, teams fall into the habit of setting their OKRs, putting them into a spreadsheet, and only rediscovering them at the end of the quarter after the time for adjustments has passed. Or, a Process Owner or Department Leader updates a shared goals spreadsheet without input or context from the teams actually doing the work. Teams should consistently provide their own updates to their OKRs, creating open and honest conversations on the likelihood of achieving them. Consistent review of progress allows for identifying problem areas, offers learning opportunities, and creates a forum for celebrating successes along the way.
If you want to talk about anything we’ve covered in this post or learn more about what Koan can do to help you enhance all of this, just let us know - we’re happy to help!