Organization-wide alignment around the top objectives of your company is critical in today’s fast-paced business environment. Despite this, focus and commitment remain a challenge for many organizations. All too often, teams get siloed and get overly focused on their priorities, which makes them stop collaborating while also losing sight of how their work contributes to the top goals of the business.
To ensure clarity about what the business wants to achieve and execute on those objectives, we need to be specific about the who, the how, and the when. It isn’t just about clarity, but also about finding an efficient and scalable way to set, manage and achieve goals across the whole organization.
One proven methodology to achieve this is with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
OKRs require adopting measurable goals and reviewing them frequently, ideally quarterly. They also require transparency to ensure cross-functional alignment and timely communication around progress and roadblocks. With OKRs (when deployed properly) your team can have clear milestones and measurable results, which enables your organization to laser focus on the objectives that really matter.
With that in mind, here are four ways to maximize the business impact of OKRs and drive the results you want.
1. Get Support From the Top
OKRs require that your organization develops new processes and skillsets. Any change is hard in large and complex enterprises so it’s important to start with the people who have the most influence in the company—your leadership.
OKRs work to drive alignment, provide clarity, and increase accountability across the organization. However, not every executive will be on board with transitioning to a new methodology; that’s to be expected. The way you change this is by getting them to try OKRs for themselves and their team and see the benefits of using the system with their own eyes. Once they realize that the fuzzy thinking and fuzzy execution is gone, they will become the evangelists of the system.
Don’t forget to focus on training and coaching your leaders because OKRs do have a learning curve and this will help them feel comfortable with the methodology and give them the confidence to roll it out to their teams.
2. Focus Your OKRs on Top Priorities
We all know that if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. Your managers may think they have 20 priorities, but adopting OKRs will help them to focus on the top 3-4 that will really move the needle.
OKRs are not a to-do list— they are a strategic way of conducting business operations. However, these are the most critical objectives and it may be difficult to align everyone in the organization around a couple of OKRs so be prepared for that.
Planning is a critical element here. If you don’t already have a process for establishing top company goals, this can be an important first step. Ideally, the organization has at least annual planning for top company goals where they set a strategy. This is followed by a quarterly goal setting at a departmental and team level to ensure on-going alignment and transparency throughout the year. This frequent and ongoing assessment of progress is critical for the business to feel confident it will achieve the objectives it sets.
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
OKRs are rooted in transparency. When everyone knows what everyone is working toward, you can all pull in the same direction.
Technology can be a huge help in this regard. We chose to use Betterworks to power our OKR program, and this transparency has increased the level of communication:
- among the executives
- between managers and employees and,
- between employees themselves—in and out of the team
This frequent, ongoing communication around goal progress, measurement, and achievement helps businesses ensure ongoing differentiation and create an environment where employees can contribute the most.
OKRs help the individual align their expectations, have a voice in defining team priorities, and their work is a part of something bigger which they co-created so it brings out ownership as well.
When deploying OKRs, it may take time for managers to “build the muscle” around these more frequent conversations. Remind the managers that these conversations are important as the transformation happens one person at a time. Training is key and reminding managers that practice makes perfect.
4. Roll Your OKR Process Out Gradually and Be Open to Learning, Innovation, and Refinement
When you begin to roll out OKRs across the organization, take the time to listen to feedback from your managers and employees and adapt accordingly. There is no one “right way” to do OKRs—just the best way that fits your organization:
“OKRs have such enormous potential because they are so adaptable. There is no dogma, no one right way to use them; it’s up to you to find your points of emphasis and make the tool your own.”— John Doerr, Measure What Matters
Customize processes so they suit your business needs, even down to the different departments and teams. The process should be flexible enough to tailor it to the unique needs of the different teams in your organization like Sales, Marketing, or HR.
It’s important that your HR tech partner can support this configuration and that they have the skills and the experience to “meet your company where they are” and grow with you.
Whatever you do, don’t quit— iterate!
There will be bumps in the road and friction that develops as you deploy OKRs throughout your organization—this should be an expectation. OKRs are a process and it will take time to adapt to the new model and adapt it to address the key learning points that inevitably come up over time.
OKRs take time, effort, training, and technology to pull off successfully but they are worth the effort because OKRs can truly transform your company.