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5 Common Mistakes Companies Make When Implementing OKRs

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OKRs for those of you that have not heard the term before stands for Objectives and Key Results. It’s not a new way to set goals but it is gaining in popularity.

Not just because companies like Google and LinkedIn use it, but because at its core it has a number of core principles that make it more appropriate than ever for companies struggling with the pace of change and the need to allow more flexible and autonomous ways of working in the workplace.

The basic principles are:

  • Pinpoint the Objectives that require change and will have the greatest impact – the 80/20
  • Focus on measurable outcomes, not just busyness
  • Empower teams to plan and align their OKRs with the company – top-down and bottom-up planning
  • Make goals and execution plans transparent
  • Plan goals in short quarterly cycles to stay agile
  • Discuss goals, plans, problems frequently

You could argue that these ideas are common sense, surely everyone does this. Unfortunately not. What’s more, even companies that try to adopt OKRs can make mistakes. These are the common ones to look out for.

Activity-Based Key Results

Some teams struggle to define measurable outcomes using metrics that matter and then incorporate them in Key Results. It’s much easier to describe what you are doing and call that a goal. 

The solution is to work out which metrics you should be using and if they are not available plan to get them and just mark them as being ‘baselined’.

Baselining is when you get the first data point for a metric, after which it should be possible to set a future target for improvement.

Too Many OKRs

Every Objective and Key Result you create will result in a dilution of focus and effort. OKRs are an exercise in focus. You want to apply the maximum amount of energy towards achieving the outcomes that you want to achieve.

The solution to this is to limit each team to one, two or a maximum three OKRs, each with a maximum of three Key Results. Another is to maintain a backlog of OKRs and not allow new ones to be created until the ones being worked on have been completed.

Set & Forget

Goals that you set and forget are less likely to be achieved than ones you talk about and update weekly. So using OKR software like ZOKRI will help you manage OKRs, schedule and manage check-ins and avoid set and forget.

Invisible Priorities

Creating OKRs that you want to achieve by the end of a quarter is a great first step in improving performance.

However, it’s the day-to-day doing that achieves those outcomes. Using agile working best-practices like making the tasks that are priorities for being worked on in the week ahead visible is a huge step forward for many teams and companies.

By doing this teams can discuss work, collaborate effectively, remove any blockers and even celebrate wins together.

Low Balling Targets

OKRs when used well encourage teams to set ambitious goals as a means of encouraging innovation, and improving learning and collaboration. This means 100% achievement is not the only definition of success. A strange paradox for many!

The solution to encouraging stretch goals is to make failure safe and a learning experience, not a stick-to-beat teams with.

What matters more than the final outcome is the level of ambition, how teams worked towards the goal, how they overcame challenges, and what at the end of the period they learned to carry forward to the next quarter.

Last Tip

If you want to use and adopt any new framework or way of working you are going to need to learn and embed new behaviors and habits. This takes commitment and time. So if OKRs are of interest, learn the right way, commit and lead by example.

You will get there and the results will be transformational.

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