OKRs, or objectives and key results, is one of the most popular goal-setting frameworks today. Teams of all sizes from many industries use OKRs to plan, track progress, and deliver on audacious goals otherwise considered unachievable.
Their simplicity, flexibility, and a proven record are why we see OKRs everywhere. This is how it works. Leaders at each level of a company decide on up to five qualitative and audacious "objectives." They then set measurable outcomes, or "key results," to see how well the teams did.
The magic of OKRs is in their ability to help people focus on the impact of work rather than micromanaging every single detail. OKRs align top-down strategy to bottom-up commitments and drive performance. Teams at Google, Samsung, Oracle, Deloitte, Amazon, and Anheuser-Busch use OKRs to deliver results.
Why do OKRs fail?
However, many companies fail at OKRs. There could be as many reasons as there are companies why OKRs do not work for them. But there are some common mistakes that many of them make. We've compiled a list of those stumbling blocks with actionable advice on how to avoid them.
1. Failure to get everyone on board
You can not have a successful OKR program without getting every team member on board, from the very top to frontline people. Moving from legacy goal-setting frameworks to OKRs is a cultural shift. So, before you roll out company-wide OKRs, get everyone's buy-in by showing how they will make their lives easier.
Show people how OKRs benefit them
- Educate everyone on the whys and hows of OKRs
- Show clear benefits of OKRs
- Illustrate with examples from industry leaders
- Answer every question
- Appeal to OKRs' impact on individual goals
2. Creating unachievable objectives
One of the most common mistakes companies make with OKRs is that they aim for unachievable objectives. These unrealistic goals demotivate employees from the get-go and make hitting targets challenging. You can be aggressive in your goal-setting, but stay clear of unachievable goals to avoid frustration.
Set aggressive yet achievable objectives
- Involve everyone in setting objectives
- Be realistically aggressive in your goal-setting
Another common mistake, especially among large, process-driven enterprises, is setting the bar too low for objectives. A team should use most, if not all, of its resources for committed OKRs. If that's not the case, people may be sandbagging by not setting challenging enough goals.
Go for the audacious and have stretch goals
- Make stretch goals a part of your OKR strategy
- Inspire people to push the boundaries
- Monitor teams' resource use regularly
4. Setting vague OKRs
As they say, "If you don't know where you're going, any road'll take you there." OKRs work when they are crystal clear. Using vague objectives such as "increase market share" leads you nowhere.
Be specific: increase market share by what percentage? In what markets? And within how much time? If you are not clear, it becomes challenging to track progress and may lead to OKRs failing.
Be specific in your objectives
- Be as straightforward as possible in your objectives
- Give your people clarity about your expectations
- Use SMART framework for key results
5. Creating top-down objectives only
OKRs help companies go beyond cascading, a hallmark of legacy goal-setting frameworks. If you are trying cascading OKRs down through your company, chances are they will not be challenging enough to deliver meaningful business results. So, you should encourage teams to structure their own OKRs that align with broader company goals.
Let the teams create their own OKRs
- Invite teams to set their own goals
- Welcome calculated risk-taking
- Encourage autonomy and bottom-up tinkering
6. Too many OKRs
Many companies try to set too many objectives. They attempt to capture their day-to-day work with OKRs. That leads to way too many priorities and people not knowing what to focus on. John Doerr, the man who popularized OKRs, says in his book "Measure What Matters" that it's best to have four objectives and five key results for each.
Use the "less is more" approach
- Have no more than 3-5 objectives with 4-5 key results for each
- Separate day-to-day projects from overall goal-setting
- Let your people know what your priorities are
7. Treating OKRs as tasks
In OKRs, objectives are your goals, not tasks. You shouldn't mistake one for the other. Your goals lead to the projects you will work on, and the projects will decide the tasks. When you treat your OKRs as tasks, they become too constrained to be effective.
Objectives > Projects > Tasks
- Set your goals first, then projects, and tasks in the last
- Use a modern performance management tool to align these three together
8. Not reviewing OKRs regularly
Many companies go into "set it and forget it" mode after setting up OKRs. That goes against the very thing that makes OKRs so powerful–ease of tracking progress. Leaders should review OKRs regularly to drive commitment and motivation among people.
Track progress every week
- Aim for 10% progress every week if you use quarterly OKRs
- Review and discuss progress with team members
- Support people struggling with their goals
9. Directly responsible individual missing
As with every other program inside the company, you need dedicated people who oversee OKRs. Without those people, it's tough to instill discipline in teams—leading to finger-pointing among members when things go south.
Assign OKR champions
- Appoint an OKR champion for every team
- Encourage OKR champions to help people with the learning curve and overcoming roadblocks
OKRs are revolutionary, but companies need time and effort to make them work. If you've just started using OKRs, we recommend taking at least two to three quarters to feel comfortable with them and avoid the pitfalls that we've mentioned above.
Remember, moving to OKRs is a cultural shift, which requires patience and commitment from every team member. But once you make the switch, you won't ever look back on the way things were.
How to fix failing OKRs?
If your OKRs are not working, don't give up! There are ways to fix the problem.
1. Align your OKRs with strategy: Make sure your OKRs are in line with your company's overall strategy.
2. Set clear and achievable goals: Be specific about what you want to achieve, and make sure the goals are realistic.
3. Track progress: Keep track of how you're doing, and adjust your goals if necessary.
4. Communicate effectively: Make sure everyone understands the OKRs and why they're important.
5. Be flexible: Allow for some flexibility in how you achieve your goals.
6. Show commitment: Make sure everyone is on board with the OKRs, and that they understand the importance of meeting the goals.
7. Don't give up: It takes time and effort to make OKRs work, but it's worth it!
If you're having trouble with your OKRs, don't despair. There are ways to fix the problem. Follow these tips and you'll be on your way to success.
By following these tips, you can get your OKRs back on track and start achieving your goals.
How to Implement OKRs successfully?
If you want to implement OKRs successfully, there are a few things you need to do.
1. Establish clear and attainable objectives: Make sure your aims are precise and realistic.
2. Keep track of how you're progressing; if necessary, adjust your goals.
3. Make sure everyone understands the OKRs and why they're significant.
4. Be open-minded: Allow for some leeway in how you achieve your objectives.
5. Demonstrate consistency: Ensure that everyone is aware of the OKRs and understands their importance in attaining them.
6 Don't give up hope yet! It takes time, commitment, and effort to create OKRs that work. However, it's worth it in the end.
If you want to be successful in implementing OKRs, make sure you follow these steps. With a little effort, you can create an effective system that will help your company achieve its goals.
- Many companies fail at OKRs and give up without finding out why
- When we drilled down into that, we found some common mistakes that most of those companies made
- We recommend avoiding these mistakes by getting everyone's buy-in, creating aggressive yet achievable objectives, and tracking progress regularly
Mesh can help you create, implement, and manage OKRs. Learn more about Mesh's OKRs and Goals.