OKRs: What are they?

What Superpowers Do They Give My Organization?

A while back I had a conversation with my father, who is in his seventies and has been retired for over 10 years. For the last 20 years of this career he worked as an HR manager for a global company. Now that he is retired, he reads a lot of newspapers and recently has taken an interest in the phenomenon where younger people seem to be prone to burn outs and other stress-related illnesses.

And in talking with him made me realize that the amount of information that the current generation of ‘younger people’ are exposed to during their careers – especially compared with my dad’s generation, is much higher. In this blog article you will learn what OKRs mean and how they better your business.

We live in a world that is moving much faster than we can. More information than we could ever consume is accessible on demand 24/7, and the opportunities for us are endless.

As much as this applies to people, it also applies to organizations: information is flowing around 24/7, you have on-demand access and an endless choice of business opportunities. It can seem like the harder decision isn’t what can you do – but what can’t you do?

And with so many opportunities available, how do you choose what to focus on? Each opportunity is better than the previous, and you can easily find yourself accomplishing none of them if you try to do it all!

For business, but also for individuals, OKRs are a method that can help you create a framework around your goals that nurture focus, alignment, accountability and transparency. OKRs can help your organization, its teams and the individual members reach the stars.

What Are OKRs?

OKR stands for Objectives & Key Results and is a management methodology for setting goals within an organization, although you can also use I for setting personal goals. It is different from other goal setting methodologies, as OKRs are much better equipped to implement changes at a higher pace and in iterative cycles. OKRs help you focus on the most important business priorities, in shorter time frames and are openly shared, communicated and measured within the entire organization. This increases transparency and cross-team alignment & accountability of the objectives & key results.

OKRs, like Agile, have been around for a while but are gradually gaining more territory, as there is an increasing need for flexible and adaptable frameworks & methodologies to stay in line with the continues change that is required.

The 4 Superpowers

OKRs distinguishes itself from other goal-setting methodologies because they possess 4 superpowers:

Superpower 1 – Focus & Commit to Priorities

OKRs help you choose what matters most to the organization. Choosing what matters most will help you concentrate on the core objectives that  make the absolute difference. These are the objectives that are a leverage to the next level, compared to other objectives that are still important but do not provide that extra leverage to make the difference.

Superpower 2 – Align & Connect for Teamwork

Transparent OKRs nourish collaboration between teams. When OKRs are out there in the open, for everyone to see and to give feedback, critique or corrections on, this creates 2 very important aspects:

  1. It creates a team of team’s approach to solving problems. When team A is working on something that can be beneficial to the goal of team B, they can reach out to team B and work together on their goal;
  2. Because all is out in the open it is impossible to be secretive about goals. Secrecy is driven by fear & shame and nourishes business toxins that are dangerous for the growth of your business.

Superpower 3 – Track for Accountability

The OKR lifecycle is a living organism. Teams or employees track, score, revise and adapt OKRs in iterative cycles. In that process they gain key insights into the progression that they are making, and they continuously assess whether the objectives are still worth pursuing. Being in that process and experiencing their own progression helps tremendously in growing motivation and keeping the team/employee engaged in their work. Motivation and engagement are the best sources for growing accountability within teams and/or employees.

Superpower 4 – Stretch for Amazing

Stretching your OKRs will help create maximum value. An OKR should push against (not over!) boundaries of the impossible, as this will help teams/employees discover they can reach levels of amazing. Pushing for amazing (and in the process experiencing that amazing is within reach) fuels a team’s innovation and empowerment. These 2 ingredients are key to the survival of an organization these days and OKRs can help you drive that.

Approach in a Nutshell

Primarily, OKRs are based on asking yourself 2 questions:

  1. Where do I want to go?
    • THE OBJECTIVE = The What
    • These should be aspirational and motivational objectives that are clear enough to be easily understood and ambitious enough to inspire.
  2. How will I monitor and measure if I am getting there?
    • THE KEY RESULT(S) = The How
    • These should be concrete, specific measurements of progress toward achieving the Objective.

Creating OKRs for your organization is about converting the why into the what and the how. Therefore, a good starting point for you to start working with OKRs is:

  • The WHY – What is the business value of introducing OKRs into your organization? Define the most important reason for wanting to adopt OKRs and prepare to be able to explain how OKRs will help improve the organization.
  • The WHAT – Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve/where do you want to go? This will result into formulating the objective.
  • The HOW – Then ask yourself how will you know that you have reached your goal? This will result into formulating the Key Result(s) for each objective.

OKRs: What Are They?Since the added value of OKRs is the short and iterative time frame, it is important to predefine a time frame for your OKRs. Ideally this is 3 months, but it is up to each organization to make this shorter or longer if required. Especially when you are just starting with OKRs I would advise to work in 8-week sprints, to get into the flow of the OKR process. Because the time frame is so important, I would like to add:

  • The When – Ask yourself in what time frame you would like to achieve your goals?

Finally, there is one last step that I would also include and that is:

  • The Initiative – What can I, as an employee of the organization, do to help reach the objective(s)? Obviously, it is not up to management to decide what each individual employee can do, but I believe it is a good initiative to get your employees involved into the adoption process and challenge them to actively participate and think of how they can contribute to the objective(s).

How does this look in daily practice and how can I start?

Great, we are ready to adopt OKRs! Now what…?

  1. First, Define your Why
  2. Before defining the objectives and key result please note the difference:
    • 2a – Objectives are always significant, concrete, action oriented and preferably inspirational
    • 2b – Key results are always specific & time-bound, aggressive yet realistic and measurable & verifiable
  3. Create a list of maximum 5 objectives, based on the organizational strategy, mission and vision. Keep in mind the criteria mentioned in 2a, I highly suggest taking in mind if the objective is considered inspirational, as these are the priorities that make the difference (Superpower 1)
  4. For each objective, define a list of maximum 5 key results. Keep in mind the criteria mentioned in 2b, and make them measurable (by include a number), set a time frame and make sure they push against the boundaries (Superpower 4)
  5. Communicate the OKR’s within the entire organization (Superpower 2)
  6. During the lifecycle of the Key Results continuously track and rate the progress of each key result
  7. At the end of the cycle grade each Key Result to address how it performed (based on your performance tracking rates) and assess what you would do differently a next time.
    • 7a – For example, a score of 7 or up is delivered, between 4-6 is progress made but no completion and 3 and below is failed
    • 7b – Any low scoring Key results (under 7) help you reassess the objective, and if still valuable make changes for the next cycle

How does that look in practice?

Why: You have always struggled to be a healthy person – you just are very fond of food and alcoholic beverages and sports is not your favorite to do. Now it starts to affect your health in a bad way, therefore you realize it has to change and have set an OKR for the coming 3 months.

  Definition Explanation
Objective I want to get healthy This objective is:

Significant -> it means a lot to you to become healthy, as your health is currently not so good

Concrete -> this is something that just needs to happen, it has a lot of priority

Action oriented -> It require you to take action to improve your health

Inspirational -> You would be so proud of yourself if you would achieve this goal

Key Results Loose 10 lbs specific & time-bound -> loose 10 lbs in 3 months

aggressive yet realistic -> that is a lot of weight loss, but I know I can do it

measurable & verifiable: I can measure at the end if I have lost the 10 lbs

  Eat 9 ounces of fresh vegetables each day of the week specific & time-bound: you need to eat 9 ounces every single day of a week

aggressive yet realistic: it is a lot of vegetable, which you do not really like, but if you cut down on other food sources it is doable

measurable & verifiable: each day you need to measure your vegetables until you have reached 9 ounces

  I want to run 3 miles, 3 times a week specific & time-bound: 3 days out of the 7 in a week I run for 3 miles

aggressive yet realistic: for a beginner 3 miles running is tough, but I have enough days in between to give my body some rest

measurable & verifiable: I can measure progression by marking the run-days in my agenda

Fair warning; keep in mind the Success Criteria!

Like with any framework and/or methodology, it is only as good as the execution. Good intentions can still pave the way to hell, therefore when adopting OKRs within your organization keep in mind the following success criteria’s:

  1. Before you start, start with WHY (do I want to adopt OKRs);
  2. OKR provides for fast paced business environments and quick changes, but that does not mean you can do a quick implementation. Reserve enough time for OKR crafting, as it will make the difference between a success or a failure. Especially when you are just starting!
  3. Less is more, do not work with more than 5 objectives. I would even recommend 1-2 for the first attempt.
  4. There is no right or wrong, just keep in mind:
    • Objectives are significant, concrete, action oriented and inspirational
    • Key results are specific 7 time-bound, aggressive yet realistic, and measurable & verifiable
  5. Every month review the progress of your key results. Key results are either achieved or not. Therefore, to make the necessary adjustments in time you need to know how they are progressing through the process.
  6. Last but certainly not least: Get support and buy in from your coworkers by involving them into the adoption process and challenge them to think about what they can do to help achieve the OKRs. You can even add this to their development plan, although OKRs on this level should not be included in any compensation plan as it paves the way for setting an easy to reach OKR to ensure the compensation.

In case you would like to read more about OKRs, I can recommend the book ‘Measure What Matters’, written by the OKR godfather John Doerr. 20 years ago, he introduced the methodology to the management of a small company named Google. In his book you can read more about that story and other organizations that have successfully implemented and are using OKRs to drive their business.

John Doerr also did a TedTalk on ‘why the secret to success is getting the right goals’ – watch here.

What’s Next?

At Kolme Group we care and want to help you get the best out of implementing OKRs in your business and help your team focus on the main business priorities.  My colleagues and I see great value in using the OKR methodology to make your business and team thrive for the best!

To find out more about our services and how we can help you, please Contact Us Here.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube and use #KolmeGroup on shared posts!

Lien Perk Author
PPM Consultant , Kolme Group

Communication & Connecting people is what she bring to her customers. Communicating is such an important part of managing your projects successfully and most of the time it also proves to be the hardest. By connecting your people and facilitating your project management processes Lien aims to contribute to growing your business success. With a Bachelor in Communication and CAPM, Prince2 and Scrum certificates on her wall, she has been working in various coordinator, manager and consultant roles in the field of Project Management & PMO. 10 years down that road and still having too much fun to want to leave it behind! When not chatting with people on a work related basis, Lien likes to socialize with close friends and family. There is always food involved when doing that, preferably homemade food. When ‘retrospective’ hours are required, she likes to go to the stables riding her horse or to take a long, quiet walk in nature.

follow me