Using OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results has become more and more popular as a goal-setting framework. And, it's no surprise! It's an effective performance management system used by many extraordinarily successful organizations use this technique to set and achieve goals. We've worked with many clients to implement Rhythm, and some of them have come to us because they've struggled to implement OKRs, EOS or other business goal frameworks successfully. We've also helped companies who love OKRs to continue using them with our OKR software solution. Along the way, we've learned some of the common pitfalls and areas where teams struggle. I'll share a few patterns that have emerged to help you achieve your company goals.
Where OKRs fall short for some teams:
Lack of strategic direction
If the OKRs are not aligned to achieve the company strategy, your teams could spend a lot of time and energy planning and executing on work that doesn't ultimately move the company forward. Don't fall into the trap of setting OKRs that don't matter. Remember that defining the key result is one of the most important components of the OKR, you have to pick metrics that will move the needle and increase performance.
Missing cross-functional alignment
There is a good deal of emphasis on vertical alignment of OKRs (top-down/bottom-up) but most companies do not implement strong horizontal alignment. Failure to align cross-functionally can lead to silos, frustration, resource constraints, missed deadlines, and rework. Make sure that you know all of the different departments and resources that will be needed to achieve your shared goals. Using OKR software you are able to see the interdependencies and be updated on their progress and any delays.
Many teams aren't disciplined in choosing a handful of OKRs to focus on each quarter. If there are 10-12 OKRs on your list, you may only get one of them done. Focusing on fewer key priorities each quarter will help you achieve more of your goals successfully. Rhythm Systems has always helped companies focus on their top 3-5 strategic objectives per employee.
Lack of clarity
Often, Objectives and Key Results are defined in a way that the what is clear but not the how. (Sometimes, if they are poorly written, the what can even be up to interpretation.) Turning desired Key Results into reality requires breaking the goals down further into clear execution plans - who is going to do what and by when. Keeping track of key milestones, and their delivery dates is important to achieve your organizational goals.
Blindsided by missed goals
If you've got your OKR process down to a science and you have elaborate dashboards that show the % complete of all your Objectives, you might be feeling pretty good about your system. But, you could still be blindsided. What "% complete" to this point doesn't tell you is whether you are on track to hit your goal. There's a story behind that number and a human with insights into whether or not they are forecasting success based on what they know.
Avoid Common OKR Pitfalls
If you want to implement OKRs and avoid these common pitfalls, try the following:
Set Your Strategy to Start with Why
Our best clients set a BHAG, or 10-20 year visionary goal for the company, and break that down into 3-5 year strategies that we call Winning Moves. Looking out into the future to set a longer-term direction will help you determine which objectives to focus on in the shorter term. Your annual and quarterly objectives should help you get closer to achieving your longer-term strategic goals. A strategic purpose will propel your team to set the right goals and be motivated to work hard to achieve them.
Don't just share objectives with your direct reports or with your manager. Create a process to align cross-functionally and create plans to work together to make big objectives happen. Creating a dashboard where the goals are linked across teams is a powerful way to be transparent about goals and visualize how the work is going to get done.
Run a Tight 13-Week Race
Focus on 3-5 goals as a team each quarter, no more. Other objectives can go on the list for the next quarter. Working on too many objectives at once will burn out the team and make it harder to finish any of the goals. Focus your team's energy on finishing a short list of objectives well, then move on to the next.
Clarify your Execution Plan
Write your goals with a clear verb, due date, owner, and explicitly defined outcomes. Identify your milestone tasks on each of your main goals - get specific about how the work will get done and by whom. This should be done collaboratively, it's not an exercise in micromanagement. But, if you leave it too high-level with the OKRs, your team will be left wondering how to accomplish the goals and specifically who is doing what by when. Without a clear execution plan with success criteria, owners, and tasks, you're leaving success up to chance.
Status on a Forecast
Rather than updating your goals based on where you are this week compared to the goal for the end of the quarter, ask the person who's accountable for the goal to project whether or not it is on track. This is a minor major - rather than looking at what has happened already, look at the future and status on a forecast. Avoid being blindsided and pinpoint which goals are truly at risk so you can have the right discussions to get back on track before the end of the quarter.
If you want help implementing OKRs or OKR Coaching in your company in a way that is aligned to strategy, encourages cross-collaboration, increases focus and productivity, and is proactive in solving problems, let us know! Our expert consultants have helped hundreds of companies navigate these thorny issues and achieve more objectives successfully.
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