Making OKRs Stick

Adopting OKRs is not an event. It’s a continuous process that requires regular, consistent contributions by managers and employees. While adopting OKRs can deliver immediate benefits by clarifying the important achievements a business is pursuing and aligning everyone in pursuit of those achievements, the greatest benefits come once the OKR process becomes engrained in the way a business does business – when the OKR process becomes habitual.

Here are three key activities that help make the OKR process a habit and maximise the benefits to businesses. Each of these activities is fundamental to the OKR process, and any business that is serious about OKRs should adopt them.

1. Checking In

Once an objective has been established, associated KRs recorded, and individuals and teams assigned responsibility for the objective, it’s critical that progress towards the objective (as measured by the KRs) is regularly monitored and recorded. This is best done by regular – weekly or fortnightly- check ins. The process doesn’t need to be arduous or time consuming, but it does need to be regular. Checking in on any given objective should be the responsibility of one individual, although other team members can contribute to the process as described below. Checking in should involve the following steps:

  1. The employee “responsible” for the objective updates progress towards its achievement using the latest KR data available. This is a quantitative exercise that should use objective data, not subjective assessments.

  2. The same employee provides a (subjective) assessment of their confidence that the objective will be achieved within the given time frame along with an explanation of why they think the OKR is or isn’t on track. A rating scale can be used to measure confidence. This is an important step as it allows early identification of OKRs at risk of being missed so that actions can be taken to get them on track. These actions could be preemptive (we’re on track now, but [problem x] is on the horizon and if we don’t do [action y] to prevent it we are at risk of missing the OKR) or remedial ([problem x] has occurred and we need to do [action y] to fix it).

  3. The check in information is shared with team members and managers so that there is visibility of progress towards achieving the OKR and any issues arising. This enables team members and managers to provide input and assistance to help ensure OKRs don’t fail. This may result in specific tasks being adjusted or resources being reallocated.

2. Reporting

OKRs typically have a quarterly cadence – they are set and reviewed at three or four month intervals. But we recommend that senior managers review OKRs mid-cycle. Thankfully, all good OKR software provides reporting capability that makes it easy for managers to see the status of OKRs at a glance and drill down on the detail if they need to.

3. Reviewing

As noted above, OKRs typically have a quarterly or four monthly cadence. And we recommend that businesses undertake reviews of all their OKRs at the end of each cycle. End of cycle reviews determine whether any:

  • OKRs are discontinued (archived) because they have been achieved or are no longer relevant

  • OKRs are continued unchanged because they remain relevant

  • OKRs are modified. This usually means that the objective remains unchanged but KRs are changed. Perhaps the original KRs weren’t the best measures to use, or were unrealistic or insufficient to measure to objective

  • New OKRs are created. The business has set new goals and needs new OKRs to reflect this change in focus

The combination of weekly or fortnightly check ins, mid-cycle reports and end-of-cycle OKR reviews provides businesses with the clarity and agility they need to respond to rapidly changing external environments.

  • they have the early warning system they need to make rapid tactical changes to circumstances by adjusting the tasks needed to achieve their objectives or reallocate resources needed to accomplish those tasks

  • managers have summary information at their fingertips that they can use in combination with financial and operational KPIs to help steer the business

  • end of cycle reviews ensure OKRs remain relevant to the business and aligned with business strategy and external realities

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