10 Steps to More Effective OKRs

The effectiveness of OKRs in driving high-performing teams has been well documented (1). Correctly executed, it’s a fantastic mechanism for continuous improvement, high performance and growth.

But in my experience, it takes senior leadership anywhere between 12 to 18 months to get good at the methodology of OKRs. If you’re currently feeling impatient with your progress, take this as a friendly reminder;

Adopting OKRs is a marathon, not a sprint.

Today, I’m sharing my 10 essentials for effective OKRs. There’s no one secret to success, but the driving factors can be broken down as follows; 

  • Focus
  • Practice
  • Consistency

Keep these OKR tips at the core of your strategy, and you won’t go too far wrong. 

OKR Tips: 10 Steps to More Effective OKRs

1. Nail Down the Non-Negotiables

There are a few essential elements that every team needs in order to drive effective OKRs. To begin, you need to secure buy-in from senior leadership teams, and ensure that these teams are clear on what the OKR framework is all about. A well-defined mission and vision are also essential - how else can you set those all-important company goals? Measurable data that drives your objectives and key results is crucial, too.

2. Focus on Outcomes, not Inputs

I’ve written about this in more detail here, but the concept of outcome over input can easily be broken down into two key points; doing stuff isn't the point; achieving stuff is. Of course, tasks will be important in achieving your goals, but in setting OKRs, your focus should be on results, not actions.

3. Prioritise Clarity

Effective OKRs need to express clear purpose and context. Whether they’re public or private, they should be easy for others to understand. For anyone on the team who refers back to them, it should be obvious what the focus of the OKR is, and what the outcome will be if you’re successful.

4. Create the Right Environment

OKRs don’t work for every team and aren’t for everyone. But that doesn’t mean conditions have to be absolutely perfect before you get started. As I said above, adopting OKRs is a marathon, not a sprint, so there’s time to make changes along the way. OKRs work best when they’re supported by cultures that promote transparency, collaboration, personal accountability, and responsibility. Prioritising these values will help you set your teams up for success.

5. Combine Bottom-Up and Top-Down Approaches

OKRs shouldn’t be doled out like homework from manager to employee. On the contrary, OKRs are designed to drive healthy discussion and collaboration. So, while company goals may be set by senior leadership teams, people at all levels of the organisation should be invited to contribute in setting personal, team and department goals. A combination of the top-down and bottom-up approaches generally works well.

6. Make them Ambitious but Realistic

Overly ambitious goals can be intimidating to the point of paralysing. And goals that fall comfortably within the remit of what you’re already doing aren’t hugely motivating. The key is to find that sweet spot in the middle. 

7. Don't Overwhelm yourself with Too Many OKRs

When it comes to OKRs, less is definitely more. Any more than five can throw you off track. Equally, you don’t have to get moving on them all at once. Many teams find it useful to begin with just one objective, and wait until progress is made before moving onto the second. And remember, it’s equally important to be clear on what you’re not going to do as what you are going to do.

8. Check In on your Progress

It can take quite a while for teams to get into the rhythm of OKRs when they first adopt them. All too often, people set OKRs and immediately return to their previous systems for getting work done, neglecting the objectives in the process. This is why frequent discussion is so important. I recommend aiming for a weekly check-in on OKRs.

9. Remember you are Not Google

It can be useful to learn about how other companies use OKRs, but ultimately, you’re going to have to sit down and come up with your own OKR strategy, one that’s unique to your business, culture, and people. The way you think, write and track OKRs must be appropriate for how you work, and how your people work. Following the lead of others will only get you so far.

10. Be Willing to Fail

When you first start with OKRs, it's normal to get it wrong. Just about every team will run into issues creating, managing or updating them. Now that you know this, your challenge is not to get discouraged when it happens. Stay the course and remind yourself that the results will come in time. 

Frankli helps teams align on OKRs by digitising the goal-setting process, providing useful objective and key result templates, and automating regular check-ins. Find out more here.

60-Second Version: OKR Tips: 10 Steps to More Effective OKRs

1. Nail Down the Non-Negotiables. You'll need to secure buy-in from senior leadership teams for OKRs to be successful. A well-defined mission and vision are also essential, alongside measurable data that drives your OKRs.

2. Focus on Outcomes, not Inputs. Remember that doing stuff isn't the point, achieving stuff is. 

3. Prioritise Clarity. Effective OKRs need to express purpose and context.

4. Create the Right Environment. OKRs work best when they’re supported by cultures that promote transparency, collaboration, personal accountability, and responsibility. 

5. Combine Bottom-Up and Top-Down Approaches. OKRs shouldn’t be doled out like homework.

6. Make them Ambitious but Realistic. Overly ambitious goals can be intimidating. Easy goals aren’t hugely motivating. The key is to find that sweet spot in the middle. 

7. Don't Overwhelm yourself with Too Many OKRs. When it comes to OKRs, less is definitely more. Any more than five can throw you off track. 

8. Check In on your Progress. Don't set and forget. Aim for a weekly check-in on OKRs.

9. Remember you are Not Google. It can be useful to learn about how other companies use OKRs, but ultimately, your OKR strategy will be unique to your business, company culture, and people. 

10. Be Willing to Fail. When you first start with OKRs, it's normal to get it wrong. Your challenge is not to get discouraged when it happens. 

Frankli helps teams align on OKRs by digitising the goal-setting process, providing useful objective and key result templates, and automating regular check-ins. Find out more here.

1. Paul R. Niven and Ben Lamorte, Objectives and Key Results: Driving Focus, Alignment, and Engagement with OKRs.

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