If you’ve heard the buzz about OKRs but are yet to deploy them in your own organisation, you might be wondering if they could actually work for you.
Maybe you’ve been setting goals with the same overall framework for years and are unsure if it’s worth reinventing the structure of your goals.
After all, what’s the point of changing how you set goals unless it’s actually going to improve your results as a firm?
Today we’re going to explore what OKRs are and how they can be beneficial, so you can decide if they might work for your teams.
OKR simply stands for Objectives (and) Key Results.
As the name suggests, OKRs are focused on attaching measures to goals (both a quantitative and qualitative component) that can then be used to push assignees toward the desired outcome.
The purpose of adding these measures is to help align teams, add transparency and increase engagement on common goals.
So why don’t we just call them Objectives? Or Key Results? Why do we need both?
It’s important to make the distinction between what these individual phrases actually mean, because they have very different meanings and contribute to the overall OKR in different ways.
The objectives or key results alone would not be effective – but it’s when they come together that the magic really happens.
Objectives show your team the big picture of what they are working towards. If you wanted your team to build a sandcastle, your Objective would be the boundary around the sandpit.
These would typically be put in place on a quarterly basis, depending on the nature of the business.
Note that these are high level aims and usually purely qualitative.
This is the quantitative part of the OKR where we attach a numerical measure to aim for.
The difference with setting a Key Result as opposed to a SMART goal is that the number should be set beyond what is thought to be possible. The key is not setting a goal so unachievable that it sets people up for failure, but rather a stretch goal that will encourage the team to reach further and encourages them to consider new approaches rather than incremental improvements.
When determining Key Results, it’s vital to consider both quality and efficiency in the calculation. What is the highest possible target to aim for that can be completed with the resources available, and while maintaining the standard of quality your customers know and expect?
Because these Key Results are stretch goals, it’s actually intended that the team will not completely hit the set target. The point is these goals are highly ambitious, and they should be designed in a way that even if only partial progress is made, the business is still far exceeding their previous results.
For example, achieving 75% of an OKR would be seen as a great result. For example, if annual turnover is currently at 20% and our target was to reduce it to 10%, a reduction to 12.5% is still an excellent result.
You might be wondering how the simple structure of OKRs actually helps teams get things done. Besides the stretch nature of OKRs that help motivate your people, the simplicity really does add to their effectiveness.
Because OKRs don’t specify how the goal will be achieved, they provide the flexibility and encouragement to get people thinking outside the box on how they will make these goals happen.
If you’re using an alternative goals framework, you might be focused on setting goals that are realistic and achievable. The potential problem with this is that incremental and achievable goals can be reached by simply doing things the way they have always been done, and hence don’t always encourage the fresh and transformational ideas that can lead to breakthroughs in efficiencies and subsequent results. The OKRs approach changes all of this.
“Either the goal is met and everyone succeeds together, or it is not and everyone fails together.”
Another benefit of OKRs is alignment, both within teams and throughout the organisation. When teams share an OKR they are working on together, this is a group effort. Either the goal is met and everyone succeeds together, or it is not and everyone fails together. This alignment is key for driving teams to pull together and achieve goals as a unit.
OKRs were first used at Intel but gained popularity after being adopted in the early days of Google in the year 2000.
Sears Holding Company is another organisation who put OKRs in place. This increased employees’ average hourly sales by 8.5%.
OKRs are also known to be used by Accenture, Adobe, Amazon, Asana, Dell, Deloitte, Dropbox, Eventbrite, Facebook, Gap, GE, GoPro, LG, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Oracle, Panasonic, Salesforce.com, Samsung, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Slack, Spotify, Tableau, Twitter, Viacom and Zendesk to name a few – so it’s safe to say they are pretty popular in top firms.
OKRs are definitely not just for businesses in Silicon Valley, and can work for just about any organisation in any industry. Even if goals are being met currently, but perhaps performance could be further improved, or you want to increase alignment between team members and across the business, OKRs are definitely worth exploring.
We recommend trialing OKRs in your business, even in one team to start with, and see how this affects performance before rolling it out to the rest of the business. In order for OKRs to work, it’s vital to back them up with the permission and support to try new solutions. Without this support on a culture level, OKRs will never reach their full potential.
Next week we’ll be exploring how to set OKRs, so you can get started implementing them in your organisation.