Successful OKR planning requires communication, accountability and patience
Companies from Google to Adobe have turned to OKRs to accelerate growth and drive innovation. When implemented correctly, OKRs establish alignment throughout an organization and help teams see how their work contributes to the company’s objectives. But a key component of OKRs is to understand that the success of the OKR framework will depend largely on the strategy and planning behind the OKRs implementation.
The 4 Superpowers of OKRs
There’s a reason that so many organizations are adopting OKRs — setting hard goals and then achieving them is at the heart of being an amazing team. In Measure What Matters, OKR guru John Doerr writes about four “superpowers” of OKRs:
“Focus and commit to priorities”: setting OKRs forces the conversation of what’s most important and makes it easier to let go of all the things that aren’t.
“Align and connect for teamwork”: committing to transparent OKRs across the entire organization means everyone knows the priorities and can self-organize to achieve the goals.
“Track for accountability”: regularly and transparently measuring progress uncovers problems earlier and drives the team to win.
“Stretch for amazing”: setting and then achieving or failing at hard OKRs will let you accomplish more than you ever thought possible.
Many of these leading companies look to OKRs for annual and quarterly planning and the most successful groups take time to prepare a deliberate plan, and have a strategy for capturing and tracking their OKRs. Ultimately, planning is essential for great OKRs and a successful process.
The OKR Planning Guide
Plan For (Lots Of) Dialogue
Plan to Build and Support OKRs From The Bottom-Up
Plan For OKR Accountability
Plan To Revise OKRs, Now and Later
Plan For (Lots Of) Dialogue
Communication and dialogue are essential to the OKR planning process. Whether it’s the start of an OKR cycle, the fiscal year, or the kickoff of a major project, prioritizing transparency and building out a communication strategy will only help improve the process.
As you work to plan your OKR cycle, here are some tips to encourage positive discussions:
Connecting individual work to the greater whole. Getting everyone (enthusiastically) on board with the project, so everyone gets a shared sense of purpose. When leaders connect the dots between the CEO’s top priorities and the team priorities, it creates a common purpose.
Create inspiration from the company’s mission. Growing OKRs from a company’s broader mission and goals gives everyone a shared sense of purpose. When the team not only believes in the mission but sees the company making progress towards it, they’ll want to keep pushing even harder.
Prioritizing the most important work. If a leader doesn’t regularly communicate priorities and make it clear what is most important, the team won’t know why they’re focused on one task versus another. Figuring out how to align tasks with results, and then results with objectives will help to engineer the best possible OKRs.
Plan to Build and Support OKRs From the Bottom-Up
When setting your OKRs, you’ll want to make sure you have a simultaneous top down and bottom-up goal setting process - this will end up with something that looks a little bit more like a network of goals rather than a hierarchy or a tree structure. One of the absolutely fundamental principles of an OKR system is that they’re ideally used to empower, not constrain.
You want your system to provide guidance, context and direction, but then you must allow teams to develop their own goals off the back of them without dictating what their OKR should be.. The message to send is we trust you thave a go at drafting these on your own.
“One of the absolutely fundamental principles of an OKR system is that they’re ideally used to empower, not constrain”
If you're an organization that is keen to innovate, you want to allow people the chance to go off and try new ideas, test out new thinking and whatever those projects might be. They might not necessarily have a direct line of sight to the top level goals for this particular period. However, when somebody is asking for some time and some resources to go and focus on something, there isn’t any harm in integrating that with an OKR and ensuring that it stays within the review process, maps with the key goals, and provides for regular cadence of tracking and discussion.
Which is to say, an OKR doesn't necessarily have to align, but there needs to be a degree of governance to make sure somebody’s not running a project of their own, which is never going to produce any benefit for the business.
The Benefits of OKR Planning From The Bottom Up
The OKR planning process benefits from contributions by all staff, from individual contributors, team managers, all the way up to the c-suite. Here are some examples of why bottom-up OKRs can be beneficial within an organization:
Thorough OKRs – front-line staff have unique insights on business operations that complement executive perspectives and can add value to the proposed goals
Resilient OKRs – gives everyone ownership over the project, and provides opportunities to course correct if the initial idea for the goal doesn’t turn out what it needs to be.
Sustainable OKRs – individual contributors will be the ones carrying out the majority of the work, so they’re the ones who know what’s attainable, sustainable, and ambitious
Innovative OKRs - creates a safe environment where employees feel like they can share ideas and different ways to achieve an outcome that hadn’t been thought of before.
Plan For OKR Accountability
Amazing results tend not to be the result of an individual, but rather successful OKR outcomes most often require collaboration and cross-functional alignment with key players outside of your team. As part of each OKRs cycle, it will be important to proactively agree on any near-term dependencies outside your team before setting team-level OKRs. This is where defining clear ownership (a lead of the KR and contributors) as well as solidifying agreement on who owns specific tactics that will be part of this KR.
A business can build in methods to keep every team member accountable for their role in achieving key results, such as:
Scheduling regular check-in meetings - Checking in on the progress of your critical goals every week is an important positive behavior and at the core of how to use goals to set the cadence of your team.
Establishing a tracking system for tasks and results - It’s important to think beyond just basic communication and incorporate productivity tools to help keep tactics that support KRs on track.
Regularly score progress - collect a “confidence score” for each goal or KR from everyone, which will represent the person's confidence that the goal will be achieved by its deadline.
Placing value on people’s feelings about the tasks at hand along the way - along with the confidence score, you’ll also want to collect a qualitative assessment as to why the person provided the rating they did. This can help to better understand the rating and make better informed decisions from both quantitative and qualitative feedback.
Plan To Revise OKRs, Now and Later
Continual improvement is an integral part of an OKRs process. By incorporating regular reflection and retrospectives, it will help to make goal planning and execution better the next time. OKRs (like any business process) should remain flexible and commit to making the process fit the culture and values of your organization. Some helpful tips:
Be patient - Designing the best possible OKR doesn’t happen on the first draft. No one gets OKRs right the first time. Focus on learning and improving.
If it's broken, you can fix it - Long after OKRs are established, months down the road, new circumstances or performance assessments often require the recalibration of OKRs. Sometimes OKRs will carry from one quarter to the next and just need to be calibrated. Other times, you’ll need to close out existing OKRs and create new ones.
Prioritize communication - Staff morale, focus, and productivity in the OKR process are challenging to maintain, so motivation and check-in methods might require fine-tuning.
Have a source of truth - Seek out best practices and document them in an OKR playbook, so as you move from quarter to quarter, you can revisit previous retrospectives to make better-informed decisions.
Software can help - when there are occasions where priorities need to shift quickly, using software to manage your OKRs can make it easy to adapt within the platform, while still keeping the process consistent.
The OKR Planning Template For Success
When planning out your OKR cycles, we want nothing more than for your organization to be the best version of itself it can be. Successful OKRs take patience and great planning to keep everyone on your team on the same page. Looking for a template to get your team started? Check out our Team Workshop Guide for Writing Incredible OKRs.