The Power of OKRs (Series Part 2) – Implementing a Framework

The Power Of OKRs (OKRs Part 2) – Implementing a Framework That Insures Employees Work Together On What Is Most Impactful



First created in the 1970s by Andy Grove and later popularized by John Doerr in his book Measure What Matters (link below), OKRs (objectives and key results framework) can help any organization to enforce a systematic, disciplined process that makes sure employees are working together on the most important actions that will impact the organization.  This system encourages employees to focus on what’s vital rather than what’s immediately in front of them.  A properly implemented OKR system makes sure that the crucial tasks that will move the business forward get finished first before employees focus on less important activities.


Many of today’s most successful companies regularly use OKRs, including Google, which has been using the framework since the beginning.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise — Doerr was one of the company’s earliest investors.  In addition to Google, many other well-known companies use OKRs, including LinkedIn, 
Twitter, Dropbox, Spotify, Airbnb, and Uber.


Do I need OKRs?


OKRs are helpful for most organizations, independent of size, industry, or organizational structure.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if OKRs would be helpful to your business:

  • Are your teams poorly aligned? Are there evident silos between groups?
  • Do you suffer from low or inconsistent employee engagement?
  • Do your projects often have unclear outcomes or objectives?
  • Do you lack a clear process to determine what a project’s objectives should be?
  • If you ask your employees what they accomplished last month, will you likely get a list of tasks they’ve completed rather than results obtained?
  • If you ask your employees what the company accomplished that moved it forward last quarter, would you get mostly blank stares?


If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, introducing OKRs to your organization may be just the thing you need to resolve these problems.


Common OKR traps and mistakes


When implementing OKRs, there are some common mistakes people make that can set you up for failure.


Problems occur when a leader organizes a companywide meeting and announces, “We’re going to start using OKRs,” but then fails to provide guidance to the organization on how to develop OKRs and actually make proper use of them.  Each team or department then goes off independently and tries to figure out what is expected of them.


Unfortunately, what typically happens next is that each silo in the organization continues to operate as a silo.  Different groups make assumptions about the expectations of other groups and build them into their plans.  When they are not able to successfully deliver on those plans, they claim it’s because the other team didn’t do what they needed them to do.


When OKRs are created in silos, you do nothing more than strengthen the negative aspects of those silos.


It’s easy to fall into various OKR traps that make them not useful, not attainable, or simply irrelevant.  


Here are six common OKR errors (traps) to avoid:


Trap #1 – Confusing committed and aspirational OKRs.  

You need both committed OKRs (those that are mission critical to the company’s success) and aspirational OKRs (those that stretch an individual or team to do better).  It’s important that these two types of OKRs be identified as such.  Otherwise, if someone thinks a committed OKR is merely an aspirational one, they won’t be as fully driven as they need to be to achieve it.  In addition, if someone believes an aspirational OKR is actually a committed one, they may put excessive effort into meeting the objective, and either miss other, more important objectives, or become disillusioned with the process.


Trap #2 – Developing “business as usual” OKRs.

If your OKRs simply define what steps your company is already doing, then they aren’t useful to help you grow or inspire change in your company.  You can’t desire a change or growth in the company but have OKRs that simply outline your current results.  Don’t define an OKR that says, “Have at least as much revenue as last year” when what you really need is to grow revenue by 25% this year.


Trap #3 – Crafting timid aspirational OKRs.

Aspirational OKRs are useful for encouraging growth and stretching the bounds of your company.  If you are timid in defining your aspirational OKRs, you won’t be stretching your bounds.  Almost by definition, only some of your aspirational OKRs should be achieved.  If you are constantly meeting all of your aspirational OKRs, you are not “aspiring” high enough.


Trap #4 – Sandbagging.

Setting an OKR that is very easy to achieve is not useful to you or your company.  Your OKRs need to establish true goals, and not reflect an easy-to- accomplish challenge.  If you are planning on building 20 new features this year, don’t set an OKR that says you will build “at least 10 new features.”  Sandbagging helps nobody.


Trap #5 – Setting low-value objectives.

OKRs should be your most important goals.  Don’t establish OKRs for every metric you monitor, and don’t establish OKRs for low- value objectives.  Setting an OKR for the number of customers that use the new settings menu on your toolbar isn’t important unless increasing the use of that menu is an important goal for the company.


Trap #6 – Pursuing a siloed implementation.

OKRs must represent a cross-functional view of your company, and must be implemented, refined, approved, integrated, and adopted in a cross-functional manner.  Implementing OKRs within silos, without visibility across them, is a quick way to create tension and result in organizational failures.


Next steps: How do I get my organization behind an OKR approach?


When you start the process of implementing OKRs, you must first decide at what level to implement them.  For OKRs to be truly successful, they have to be implemented at the highest possible level of the company and cascade down from there to the rest of the organization.  This is essential, but very few people can influence an entire organization, especially a large one.


If you are the CEO or founder of the company, then you can and should drive the OKR initiative from the top, where it will have the most positive influence on the rest of the company.


If you are a CPO, a GM, or VP of a group or organization, or even a director or senior manager, you can implement OKRs in your area of influence.  But the need for cross-departmental communication doesn’t go away even if the sphere of OKR implementation is smaller.  You need feedback review processes and other communications channels with the groups outside of your implementation bubble in order to enable the needed cross-functional alignment.


Here are the essential steps to get started:

  • Determine the highest level within the organization that you have influence over, and at which you can implement the OKR process.
  • Establish the OKR process with the leaders at this level of the organization. Then put the processes in place to cascade them down the organizational chain.
  • Create review and feedback processes that reach out cross-functionally from your implementation bubble so that other teams have input and feedback into your process.
  • Publish your OKRs within your group, and globally outward to the rest of the organization.
  • Review and revise your OKRs as necessary. It’s good to review them weekly or monthly, and then update them quarterly or annually (as your business needs require).


If you can only implement OKRs in a relatively small corner of your company, that does not negate their value.  Just remember that the impact of what you do extends beyond your group, and you need to listen and respond to requirements that are provided outside of your more limited OKR process.  If you do that successfully, and OKRs help improve your part of the organization, the effect will be felt outside of your group—and you just might be responsible for creating positive change across the entire company.

I Power Seeds

Here are our takeaways and thoughts - pause and reflect, then nourish and grow!

This three-part series will help you figure out which framework works best for you and your organization.  The second part provided some valuable insights of traps to avoid as well as ways to get your started.


If you had any thoughts, let us know below in the Comments section.


Hope you enjoyed the post.

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