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Introduction To Objectives and Key Results – OKR

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Learn OKRs & Deliver Your Strategy

47 pages of know-how with easy to understand graphics to help you learn how to plan, write and manage OKRs at scale.

Learn OKR & Roll-Out OKRs At Scale

As you probably know, OKR stands for Objective and Key Results with OKRs being a hugely popular goal setting framework.

Planned well, for most, OKR roll-outs are not an especially hard undertaking. In fact, it’s fun and has an immediate impact. The key ingredients are know-how and commitment. And it’s the know-how that this OKR guide is looking to help with.

In this OKR guide we are going to share :

  • How to plan, write and roll-out OKRs across your company.
  • How you can implement OKRs ‘the right way’ and avoid a lot of the common pitfalls.
  • What some of the important nuances of OKR implementations are that are often not understood or simply overlooked.
  • What makes companies a good fit for OKRs, as well as what can make them a bad fit too.

And because OKRs have a big cultural component, we will also be sharing the behaviours and habits teams will need to adopt to make OKRs a catalyst for a step-change in performance.

 

Let’s Start With Your OKR ‘Why’

It’s probably safe to assume that KPIs and goals, perhaps SMART goals, are being used in your company right now.

Well, the good news is that OKRs take these to the next level. There is a real opportunity to help you go from ‘good’ to ‘great’ goal setting.

And if we get this right, OKRs will allow you to identify and unlock improvements in performance by getting clarity on your most important game-changing goals.

These goals will align vertically, from the top-down and bottom-up, as well as between teams, and encourage and facilitate better teamwork, more effort and innovation.

These are of course great benefits. However, those reasons are not really great ‘whys’.

Great reasons ‘why’ you should start using the OKR framework include:

  • You need to systemise your ability to focus efforts on game-changing goals to lead your market.
  • You need to prioritise efforts towards the areas of greatest impact.
  • Teams need help to distinguish between business-as-usual work and game-changing goals.
  • You need a goal framework that allows all levels of the company to know and help deliver your strategy.

Are any of these reasons behind why you’re planning on using OKRs? Knowing and communicating your ‘why’ allows you to energise your teams.

 

Fast Forward 12 Months

After 12 months of using OKRs correctly we would expect you to see big improvements in lagging indicators such as revenue growth, customer retention and satisfaction, and employee retention.

 

What Makes OKRs Different From Other Goal Setting Frameworks?

You may have heard of the FAST goals. Well we’ve added an extra ‘A’ to make ‘FASTA’. We think FASTA really summarises what types of goals OKR are.

  • Frequently discussed
  • Ambitious
  • Specific
  • Transparent
  • Aligned

 

Delivering Strategy & Aligning Work With OKR

You will find that OKRs are designed to deliver your strategy and complement Agile processes such as Scrum and Kanban.

They will also create clarity for execution teams by connecting their work to your vision and strategy. But what about the activities not related to strategy and change?

We have mentioned Strategy a lot, but not everything going on in your company is related to strategy. In fact, everyday jobs, processes and business-as-usual tasks are often the bulk of an employees’ day.

A key point to make here is that this work does not need to be codified as an OKR. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for a failed OKR roll-out is employees turning their to-do lists into OKRs.

We would encourage you to exclusively reserve OKRs for strategic and transformational goals. If you don’t you will dilute focus, effort and your OKRs potential impact.

Also, each quarter, we would like you to consider, agree and commit to an amount of time to dedicate to your OKR outcomes.

Depending on the Quarter, your team and your role – this will range between ZERO and ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of your time.

This means that when OKRs are implemented across your company, some employees will have lower levels of OKR involvement than others, and that is OK as their contribution will be recognised in lots of other ways.

What are OKRs?

 

 

Tracking OKRs Successfully

How are you going to track OKRs and the impact of business as usual work? You’re going to use KPIs as well.

OKRs and KPIs have different jobs to do. They are complementary and actually need each other. In fact they are frequently part of the same conversations, especially in OKR meetings.

For example, it’s common to have OKRs and KPIs as agenda items in monthly or quarterly business review meetings. And to help those conversations, KPIs can have their own targets and thresholds to maintain independently of your OKRs.

So, if you really want OKRs to succeed you might want to invest in defining and tracking KPIs as well.

Both OKRs and KPIs can be tracked and managed in ZOKRI.

 

What Is An OKR?

We have mentioned the term OKR a lot but still haven’t looked at what it is. So let’s take a look now.

OKRs describe important, highly desirable and measurable outcomes that you want to achieve in a period. That period is usually a quarter.

Another way to think about OKRs is to imagine presenting to your company at the end of each quarter.

Your presentation outlines what you targeted for improvement during the quarter in order to support the company strategy, what you did, where you got to by the end of the quarter and what you learned.

And in the same presentation you’d also run through the KPIs that you maintained and improved.

So OKRs are the outcomes you want to achieve in a planning period that is usually a quarter.

The work you will be doing to achieve them is often labeled outputs. These outputs are often called Initiatives, Tasks, To-Dos, Epics or Sprints.

 

Setting OKRs

To set OKRs you need to agree and focus on what change would have the greatest impact on Company OKRs during the next Quarter.

There might be KPIs that really need to be improved, or sub-optimal systems or processes that need optimising, or even strategic big projects that must be delivered.

The debate and ‘check-sum’ is this:

Of all of the things you could commit to, if this OKR made good levels of progress, would it help to achieve the company OKRs, and in doing so have made a material difference to the business.

 

What Makes A Good Objective?

There are four important things to remember when crafting the Objective of your OKR. Objectives must be:

  • Easy to understand
  • Reasonably short
  • Describe what needs to be achieved
  • Be exciting and motivating

If helpful, you can even add why this Objective is being done.

A couple of great Objective examples include:

“Customers love our product and we’re ready for take-off”

“Our product is chosen over competitor products every time”.

Getting consensus on which Objectives are most important right now is step 1 of an OKR.

Read more about writing OKRs see more OKR Examples.

 

How To Write Key Results

So what makes a really good Key Result? This is where things get interesting and sometimes challenging.

The DNA of good Key Results:

  • Have an outcome that will drive the right behaviours
  • Are quantitative, which means they have a number
  • The number changes frequently – ideally weekly as this makes frequent check-ins relevant and useful

A top tip is to structure Key Results using words like ‘from’ and ‘to’ help to provide context for what needs to be achieved.

You will need agreement that a change in that measurement would make a big difference to the Objectives achievement.

The difficulty of Key Results is also important. Ideally they should be graded using labels like ‘stretch’ or ‘aspirational’. We will tell you more about why this matters in a moment.

Finally, like with Objectives, they need to be owned by an Individual, this is often the Objective owner – but this doesn’t always have to be the case.

So to summarise, quantitative measurements are the best kind of Key Results. But they are not the only kind of Key Results that can work.

For example, milestones can work, especially if the milestones are for the delivery of one of those really big strategic projects.

Key Results that are made up of projects, campaigns, sprints and epics – or even a series of tasks from your to-do list are not ideal. They are the work you’re doing, and should be clearly separated from your Key Results.

Here’s are a few examples of Key Results:

  • Grow MRR from 1.5 to 3.5, or, Increase Weekly Active Users from 4K to 8K this Quarter.
  • Increase Leads from companies over 2K employees from 50 to 500 this Quarter
  • Reduce the time it takes to onboard a customer from 5 days to 1 day this Quarter.

Notice each example has a ‘from’ and a ‘to’ with a timeframe.

 

Why Stretch Key Results Matter

Back to the idea of setting stretch or aspirational targets. Knowing when and how far to stretch is a key part of planning OKRs. Often, we deliberately make OKRs difficult, but we do this for really good reasons.

Only when we stretch ourselves do we innovate more, learn more, collaborate more and focus more.

Now that we’ve said that. Imagine not setting hard goals!

The counter argument is that not achieving 100% might be demotivating.

Well with OKRs, what needs to be clear is that 100% progress is not the only definition of success.

In fact, 100% is often not even the desired level of success as it could mean you were not ambitious enough.

Where can you decide whether the OKR was an achievement or not?

The answer is the OKR Retrospective – a key stage at the end of an OKR cycle.

Say you were approaching the end of the quarter having achieved progress of 57% on an aspirational OKR.

It’s in the retrospective that you can reflect on everything from the amount of time you had to work on the OKR, to the resources that were available, and challenges faced.

You can also capture and share what you learned and might do differently going forward.

So 57% might actually be graded as a great achievement.

Because stages like Retrospectives are so important, software like ZOKRI is needed to systemise the capture and sharing of these narratives and learnings.

 

Start Planning OKRs

Are you ready to start planning and discussing OKRs?

If you are, it’s useful to be able to answer these questions.

  • Describe this OKR and why you chose it?
  • How does this OKR align and support the company strategy and/or Company OKRs?
  • Does this OKR align with other departmental / team OKRs and have you discussed your OKRs with them?
  • Do you need the support of another department or team to make progress in this OKR?
  • How many hours do you need to commit to this OKR each week to make progress?
  • What business-as-usual work will need to be delegated or not done as a result of this OKR?

Again, this is where the important role of OKR software comes in. ZOKRI helps you systematically align the priorities that have a huge impact on performance.

 

Less Is More With OKR

When you’ve agreed your OKRs you are going to have OKRs that are owned by both departmental teams and cross-functional project teams. All should align with Company OKRs.

The expression ‘less is more’ couldn’t be more relevant when talking about OKRs. In fact, less is WAY more.

Remember that every Objective and Key Result you create adds additional complexity, reduces clarity, and dilutes focus. OKRs are an exercise in goal minimalism and impact maximization.

A good challenge is to try and limit yourself to just one OKR at every level.

Is that number of OKRs enough?

If you were to get to the end of the quarter and each of those OKRs was achieved, how significant would that be?

Hopefully the answer is that it would be game-changing.

OKRs Centralize Goals

 

Planning OKRs Quarter-to-Quarter

Earlier we mentioned that OKRs compliment Agile processes such as Scrum and Kanban. OKRs can be planned and managed in a similar way too – just at a quarter at a time.

This means that OKRs can sometimes continue between quarters and some will get completed early.

Thinking and planning like this means that if OKRs are completed early, another one can start from a backlog you might have.

Quite often when OKRs roll-over between quarters, you have an opportunity to re-calibrate or even redefine Key Results.

Having an OKR cycle that allows you to discuss and choose which goals are going to be committed to each quarter, based on where you are at that moment in time, means that planning future quarters is usually not a good use of time. There is just too much uncertainty.

OKRs allow you to be agile and decide as you go on how value can best be delivered.

Like with agile work, you are trying to not overload the system with too much active work.

 

OKR & Complimentary KPI Examples

Now let’s look at some OKR examples and the KPIs that compliment them and might form part of the same meetings.

Here’s an Objective to :

Expand internationally to accelerate growth

The outcome based Key Results:

‘Sign-up our first 100 customers in a [new market]’
‘Publish 5 case-studies from customers in the [new market]’.

Complementary KPIs for an OKR like this would be profit, costs, MRR, churn, LTV, CAC, EBITDA and CSAT or NPS.

Next let’s look at an OKRs aligned with that strategic one.

Scale marketing and sales

It has two Key Results.

‘To book 500 sales meetings’
‘Generate 10 new customers’.

Complementary KPIs for this would include funnel metrics such as the Leads to SQL conversion percentage and the SQL to Customer conversion percentage.

 

Finding Your OKR Rhythm

Right, we’ve covered the basics of setting good OKRs. What you now need to know is that the key to achieving and delivering the company strategy is to find and keep to your goal execution rhythm.

You need to ensure the right conversations are happening at the right time. In teams you need to plan and keep to a meeting schedule that is locked into diaries.

Away from team meetings, asynchronous updates to OKRs can be done through check-ins with notifications and alerts keeping everyone informed.

The right conversations at the right time deliver results. OKRs are the framework for these conversations and these will all live and be managed with ease in ZOKRI.

 

OKR Conversations

An OKR Roll-out

Hopefully you can now see the power of OKRs and what they could do for you.

So how do you start to roll-out and implement OKRs in your company?

Obviously it depends on where you’re starting from. But assuming you’re at the beginning of your journey, here are four milestones to aim for.

Firstly, agree a C-level pilot. Then take the time to learn OKRs the right way. Set the KPIs or health metrics for the company and set the first company OKRs. From here, start having weekly short OKR meetings.

Once the C-level pilot has developed rhythm and is working, start thinking about a Team, or cross-functional team pilot.

Coach these teams on what has been learned from the C-level pilot. Set KPIs, develop OKRs and again hold regular weekly OKR meetings.

Next, select and train OKR leads and ambassadors – the guardians of OKRs in the company.

Now you can roll-out to middle management and below.

 

Training New & Existing Employees In OKR

As part of this roll-out you are going to need to train and coach both new and existing employees on how you use OKRs.

The goal is to ensure everyone understands and uses OKRs in a consistent way. This is not a challenge as long as you have a plan to do it.

Having a bank of written and video assets to use when training your staff is helpful for when you run OKR workshops. ZOKRI has these ready for you to use in addition to the OKR software.

 

OKR Fit & Being Fit To Use OKR

By now you’re already familiar with what an OKR consists of, what it entails and the potential it has for you, your teams and company. Now we need a reality check.

Are OKRs A Good Fit For You?

We need to be honest, OKRs are not for everyone. OKR implementations sometimes fail. This is why you make sure you’re a good fit for OKRs and why you plan to succeed.

To help you check your fit, We are going to list a series of common failure points, then describe what a bad and good fit looks like.

  • Command & Control Leadership
    • A bad fit would be leadership having the solutions and insisting on telling teams what to do.
    • A good fit would be setting the strategy and wanting teams to provide the solutions.
  • Immediate Success & Perfectionism
    • A bad fit is wanting to create and manage perfect OKRs from day 1.
    • A good fit is committing to learning and setting OKRs, and expecting to get better over 3 to 4 quarters while you learn these new skills.
  • Too Many OKRs
    • A bad fit would be if you want to use OKRs to see everything that’s going on in every department.
    • A good fit would be if you want everyone to focus and deliver a few game changing goals at a time and plan to use OKRs with KPIs to track progress.
  • Business-as-usual Take Over
    • A bad fit is when you know that there is no time in the system to focus on game changing goals and expect the answer to be that people work harder for longer.
    • A good fit is when you plan to resource OKRs and prioritize efforts by often not doing “other” important work
  • Lack Of Centralised, Current & Accurate Results
    • You would be a bad fit for OKRs if you plan to keep and track them in documents and spreadsheets.
    • A good fit is when you understand that you need a solution to keep the company aware, focused and on-track with alerts, notifications, discussions and reporting.

Our Best Advice For OKR Success

What is going to make your OKR roll-out better, easier and faster? This is the best advice we can give you. Make sure:

  1. Your OKR roll-out has leadership ownership, commitment and urgency. And leadership must be willing to lead by example.
  2. Teams should have a good to high level of Psychological Safety.
  3. Managers should display low levels of Micromanagement.
  4. Your organisation needs the ability to create and work in diverse, multidisciplinary teams.
  5. You have a good to high level of trust and autonomy in the workplace.
  6. It’s clear how OKRs will be used in appraisals and career development conversations, and your approach won’t undermine performance and teamwork.

In Summary

Here’s a summary and a list of tips from what we’ve learned so far.

  1. Make sure your strategy is defined, clear and shared.
  2. Reserve OKRs for game-changing strategically aligned goals.
  3. Set and track KPIs or ‘Health Metrics’ with OKRs to describe business, team and operational health.
  4. BAU aka ‘the day-to-day’, will eat away at OKR time and focus, so protect OKR resources and help to keep your focus on OKRs by keeping to the agreed OKR meeting cycle.
  5. Allow OKRs to only play a small part in appraisal conversations and only where appropriate. If OKRs are reserved for strategically aligned change, most people will work on non-OKR, BAU work, most of the time. For BAU centric contributions, conversations about roles and responsibilities, KPIs, behaviour, and learning are probably better performance indicators.

Platform OKRs For Success

This sounds self-serving but OKRs in spreadsheets or project software often leads to failure. So it’s a good idea to start as you mean to go on.

The best thing you can do is set and manage your OKRs in OKR software like ZOKRI.

ZOKRI has been built from the ground-up to be a central place to manage and report on your OKR cycles – connecting key tools to increase efficiency and improve performance.

In the platform, you’ll make sure that everyone can see what matters, all in one place.

Key Results and to-dos can be connected to the familiar tools that you’re already using such as Jira, Trello, Monday, Todoist, Asana and Hive. There’s no need to change the way you work.

Priorities for the week can be shared in and across teams with just a simple click – and no need for double entry.

Your KPIs and health metrics are visible and part of the conversation – meaning you’ll set and manage better OKRs.

Key Results can be created your way by configuring the options you want teams to see.

And OKR grading makes it clear what is expected.

In ZOKRI you’ll never miss check-ins as they only take a few minutes a week to complete.

And you can schedule OKR meetings in calendars using data straight from the platform – you’ll never need to create OKR presentation slides again.

OKR progress reporting is made so simple with insights available by pillar, tag, team or individual.

You can track performance with the perfect blend of KPIs and OKRs with shared or private Dashboards.

And of course, it’s easy to share and align your strategy with OKRs.

With ZOKRI you can even keep things simple and start light, then as you grow in confidence switch on and increase feature usage as teams become experts in OKRs.

Ready To Commit To OKRs?

By using OKR goals you will be embedding the systems, processes, technology and habits that will ensure that your strategy, goals and productivity are continually being aligned with opportunities for value capture.

Embedding the best ways of working in your company’s DNA and culture.

  • Improve the way you think about, communicate and measure goal achievement.
  • Help employees feel connected to your company goals and strategy.
  • Make priorities clear, and make filtering demands easier – saying ‘no’.
  • Optimise value creation by doing the right things and measuring the value.
  • Increase focus and guide critical decision making.
  • Improve alignment and show employees how they contribute – their impact.
  • Enable more autonomous decision making and give people freedom to work out the best way of achieving goals.
  • Provide a transparent view on progress and context for wider decision making.
  • Accelerate learning cycles with deliberate experimentation and learning loops.

Let’s go!

Download The PDF Guide

OKRs at Scale

47 pages with easy to understand graphics to help you learn how to plan, write and manage OKRs at scale.

  • Why OKRs
  • What does a success look like for an OKR implementation
  • Why OKRs are FASTA Goals
  • How OKRs align with Agile
  • How to write great OKRs
  • What makes a good Objective & Key Result
  • How OKRs align companies and teams
  • What a typical OKR cycle looks like
  • How to train and manage OKRs at scale