OKR Tactics for Q1 2018

OKRs (Objectives and Key results) allow you to take a data-driven approach to performance management by incorporating metrics into objectives at the company, team, and individual level. The Objectives (things to be accomplished) and accompanying Key Results (how you’ll get there, ideally quantified) are set as follows:

I will accomplish (Objective) as measured by (Key Result).

OKRs give you the measurable data you need to accurately track performance, drive focus, and keep teams’ objectives aligned with company priorities. This guide covers a few of the most helpful tactics you can use to ensure you’re getting the most out of your OKR process.

Set Measurable Objectives

OKRs are an innovative blend of the Management by Objectives (MBO) and SMART Goals.

Here’s a quick recap on those two:

MBO was introduced by “the father of management,” Peter Drucker, in 1954. It’s based on setting goals collaboratively, which leads to improved engagement.

SMART is an acronym for goals that are specific, measureable, aligned, relevant, and time-based. When objectives are set according to these criteria, they’re easier for teams to focus on because expectations are clear.

They also make it easier for managers to track progress because measurements allow you to see exactly how far along each team, department, or individual is towards accomplishment.

Your OKR process should encompass each of the key principles described above. In addition, you should:

  • Have objectives and key results that are meaningful and cascade down from the top-level goals of the company. Everyone must know how their personal objectives are connected to the top.
  • Break up objectives so that they are made up of a series of 3-5 more manageable steps.
  • Use both a bottoms-up and tops-down approach. Some objectives should be set according to individuals’ recommendations and priorities, but managers must collaborate to ensure all objectives somehow support top company priorities.

Plan Strategically

You can’t set objectives without first assessing where you are now against where you want to be. This is where having an effective strategy comes in. A company’s strategy is all of its initiatives, as well as the alignment of resources (people, time, and money) to yield successful performance and results. We recommend using a method called “The One Page Strategy” (TOPS) to develop an effective strategy. A well-developed strategy is more likely to be executed successfully.

Writing a strategy also gives you the opportunity to align your resources. Setting objectives is just one part of execution – you must first assess whether you have enough time, money, and manpower to execute them.

Review OKR Examples

Be clear and concise with OKR verbiage, and phrase each OKR using language that’s relevant to the targeted group.

Use action verbs when setting objectives. By using actionable words and phrases, the objective cascades down with clarity and a direct path for execution.

If you’re unsure of how to phrase your OKRs, use OKR examples for ideas.

Here are just a few well-written OKR examples:

  • Complete X experimental lead generation projects in the Q2 to grow lead flow
  • Complete X PR projects in Q3 to grow brand awareness
  • Invest 10% of time every week into non-measurable, “serendipitous” marketing experiments.

Use Transparency to Drive Responsibility

Make both long-term goals and quarterly objectives visible for all to see so that everyone knows what they’re working towards. This transparency will also organically enforce responsibility, since everyone will be able to see into the progress other team members are making.

All individuals, executives, and departments should be contributing towards objectives that link directly to the company goals. Each individual must also be responsible for prioritizing his or her own set of OKRs.

Designate a DRI

Make sure that there is only one directly responsible individual (DRI) for an OKR, and each accompanying KR within that objective, if it is being cascaded downwards.

An “owner” of an OKR does not have to be the group manager; rather, the DRI serves as a traffic cop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the department head with direct reports.

The DRI/Owner is responsible for summarizing the learnings from the OKR and suggesting improvements for the upcoming quarter. He or she should perform a “retrospective” or “gap analysis” at the end of the quarter when OKRs are closed out.

Achieve Ongoing Performance Management

The reason OKRs fit so well into an ongoing performance management framework is because their metrics make them simple for managers to measure progress. Measuring and providing feedback on progress regularly are foundations of effective ongoing performance management.

Objectives must be tracked and reviewed frequently – this is absolutely imperative for overseeing progress and initiating course-correction, when needed. Managers must also provide feedback for teams based on their performance towards objectives, which helps to keep them engaged and focused on priorities. Check in on a weekly basis using the weekly one-on-ones – no exceptions – to achieve quarterly OKRs. Called the best management practice of all time, one-on-ones are brief yet focused meetings held between managers and each of their direct reports. During these meetings, managers and their teams exchange updates on progress, identify and address any potential roadblocks, and re-clarify expectations for the upcoming week.

Many organizations choose to implement OKRs on a quarterly schedule. With 13 weeks in a quarter, this time frame allows for a 2-3 week grace period in the beginning to ease everyone into the process. Throughout the remaining weeks, you and your team should follow a 10% completion rate. Dedicate each week to completing 10% of every objective, so that by the time the quarter winds down, the objective will have been fully met.

To organize and chart progress and make it available for others to see, many high-performance organizations implement a weekly pulse report that’s reviewed by each manager or DRI.

In each report, an employee updates the status of his or her progress made towards objectives by providing succinct answers to a few brief questions. These reports also provide an additional outlet through which performance-related feedback can be exchanged to further support clarity, engagement, focus, and alignment.

Use Technology to Track Progress

Some organization use shared spreadsheets to track OKR progress. However, this can quickly become cumbersome and confusing. It also lacks the ability for teams to exchange feedback on goal progress, which is a critical component of the OKR process. Today, there are robust solutions available such as OKR software with features like goals dashboards which create visibility into everyone’s progress, tools to easily cascade and align objectives, and data-driven insights to help managers uncover performance hotspots and make effective decisions.

Use Aspirational & Operational Objectives

Don’t structure every OKR so that it’s an aspirational or stretch goal. While aiming for stretch goals is important and making them a bit difficult to reach will drive performance, you must also implement operational goals. These are more likely to be achieved, but can still be ambitious, too. Seek a balance among the two so that teams don’t feel overwhelmed, which can have an adverse effect and lead to demotivation and disengagement.

Also, you don’t have to have a set completion target for OKRs. For instance, if the implication is that achieving 70-80% of OKRs consistently will be considered a good outcome, there’s a potential to quickly demotivate everyone.

Don’t Overcomplicate OKRs

Some companies choose to grade OKRs to understand what occurred and how you can improve for the future. However, this process can quickly become overly complex. Weighting OKRs also adds unnecessary complexity to the process by implying that some objectives are more important than others. In reality, all are of equal importance, because they’re all based on the top company priorities for that quarter.

Many managers and executives also wonder whether OKR performance should be used in performance appraisals. It’s important to note here that many companies are moving away from traditional performance appraisals and instead replacing them with ongoing performance management.

Ultimately, you should indeed be assessing employee performance based on how well they do in meeting their Objectives. OKR performance doesn’t have to be the only factor upon which you gauge performance, but it’s an important one. After all, your company performance depends directly on teams’ ability to effectively accomplish their objectives. For this reason, regularly assessing performance on objectives and providing actionable feedback should be an integral part of your performance management system. Just be sure to clarify expectations at the beginning of each quarter so that each employee knows exactly how their performance will be evaluated. Continue having performance-related discussions during your one-on-ones each week so everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises when it does come time for more formal reviews, if you still choose to use them.

Avoid These 9 Common OKR Mistakes

Adhering to the tips and tactics presented throughout this guide will help you steer your teams towards successfully achieving their objectives so you can effectively execute your strategy. With that said, there are a few additional mistakes you must avoid when using OKRs:

  1. Don’t overload teams or individuals with OKRs – remember the limit of 3-5 objectives per quarter.
  2. Avoid vague, ambiguous objectives and KRs that don’t have quantification, deadlines, and neglect to follow SMART criteria.
  3. Don’t “set and forget” objectives. Track progress weekly using data-driven insights to inform your feedback exchanges with your teams. Ensuring 10% completion for each cycle.
  4. Make sure that you’re not dictating all OKRs from the top-down – some should also come from the bottom up.
  5. Avoid setting any OKRs that cannot be directly aligned with or linked to top company priorities.
  6. Don’t skip out on assigning an owner or a DRI to each OKR – it’s not enough to just have a group name listed. Someone must be responsible for overseeing each OKR.
  7. Don’t be overly-ambitious just for the sake of it. Make some OKRs operational while others can be more ambitious stretch goals.
  8. Don’t allow employees to structure their own objectives without coming up with specific tactics for each KR.
  9. Remember to use thoughtful planning and resource allocation to ensure each OKR actually can be met.

What else? Are there any other OKR tips that you’d like to share? What are some tactics you’ve used to successfully adopt OKRs in your organization?

Do you manage a company or teams (either as a CEO, a senior executive, a middle manager or even a front-line manager)? Do you set and track objectives? Does aligning employee performance to business goals matter, and are you responsible for driving results? If so, please check out a live demo of Atiim OKR & Goals Management Software and we’d love to hear what you think about it. Thank you!


Image Credit: Pascal Swier on Unsplash

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