OKRs provide a way for organizations to focus their effort around the same important initiative. This alignment is a core concept to OKRs. In fact, it is the golden ticket to OKR success. But alignment isn’t something you can set and forget. You must make sure OKRs are aligned up front and stay aligned throughout the quarter.
When we talk about OKR alignment, we’re referring to the notion that all of an organization’s OKRs support the achievement of the same overarching goal. If the business is a ship, then it will only get to its destination if everyone is rowing in the same direction. OKRs ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction; that is, that they are working on what matters most to the organization. Alignment is critical. Just one person rowing in the wrong direction can steer the entire ship off course.
How to align OKRs at the start
Of course, OKRs must begin in alignment to maintain alignment. There are two primary best practices for aligning OKRs at the beginning of the quarter or year. The first is to contextualize OKRs and consider how they relate to the company strategy. Top company OKRs should have related departmental OKRs, and then those should have subsets of team or individual OKRs, and cross functional OKRs should integrate with all of those.
The second best practice is to have crucial conversations where context is discussed in a meaningful way. Meetings at the core team and executive levels should confirm that OKRs properly reflect priorities, while cross-functional discussions ensure that what marketing is working on is not duplicative of what sales is working on (for example). Once you have those conversations and everything is in alignment, you start executing.
Maintaining OKR alignment best practice No. 1: Measure connectivity
One way to maintain alignment is to measure connectivity. If OKRs were set up in a certain context when you started the quarter, then you should be able to measure what’s happened or changed with those OKRs to make sure they are still related to each other in a way that you expect. For example, you might have a goal at the start of the quarter to have no more than 40% of OKRs cascaded. If you know that percentage upfront, then you can monitor it over the course of the quarter and use an increasing percentage as a warning sign that OKRs are misaligned.
The lifeblood of OKR execution is crucial check-ins. Frequent discussions help ensure that OKRs remain aligned. Every organization is different, but there are at least three types of check-ins that should be occurring. The first is team status updates. These are weekly or bi-weekly semi-standup meetings where teams come together to specifically discuss whether OKRs are on track. In addition to frequent one-on-ones throughout the quarter, mid-quarter manager conversations should include coaching and a structured, higher-level strategic discussion about OKRs to make sure they still align with the team’s direction and the company’s overall direction. And, finally, the executive team should have an OKR status meeting to confirm that the top company objectives previously identified continue to be a priority.
Maintaining OKR alignment best practice No. 2: Surface information
Another way to maintain alignment is by surfacing information through cross-functional OKR ownership. When you set up OKRs at the beginning of the quarter, look at OKRs that are similar across departments, and identify opportunities for collaboration. Collaboration between various departments will surface information that flows between the groups and will help both achieve their respective OKRs.
Maintaining OKR alignment best practice No. 3: Communicate change
Finally, it’s imperative that executives communicate change to top company OKRs. Executives should use their check-in to ask questions about whether or not the intent of the objectives are clear based on the output so far. Are there, for example, unintended consequences due to the way OKRs were structured or phrased? Are we making progress on the right work? This is a chance to highlight different OKRs, modify existing OKRs, or replace them altogether. After this update, regardless of the outcome, there should be communication to the company: Steer the course or turn the ship.
OKR alignment is crucial, not just at the beginning of the period, but throughout. It won’t matter if the workforce achieves their OKRs if the OKRs are no longer aligned by the end of the quarter. If you make these best practices part of your OKR routine, you’ll find that it’s not only easier to maintain alignment but when you do become misaligned, it’s easier to get back on track. To learn more about OKR alignment, watch our recorded webinar, Maintaining Alignment with OKRs.