How to implement OKR?
Four Practical Tips for a Successful Implementation of OKR
So you have read John Doerr’s OKR book and watched many OKR videos. You want to see your team achieve extensive and impressive results by leveraging OKRs, but you still wonder how to implement OKRs in your company.
Many people think that OKR can be learned via self-study. However, after a period of trial and error, the expected business results were not achieved. That is when they turn to us to find out the reason for their failure.
After an in-depth assessment of their implementation process, I found that some common mistakes result in OKR implementation failure across the board. To help you avoid these mistakes, I want to share four practical tips with you.
1. Develop an OKR implementation plan that suits your company
Since Google first used OKR, it has achieved more than 10 times business growth. After that, more and more companies followed suit with OKR. I have some clients who adopted Google’s OKR approach wholesale. However, after a few months, despite the employees having done all the work in OKR, team engagement did not improve, and management did not see any results in business growth.
This is because these companies chose an OKR implementation plan that is not suitable for them. Google’s OKR implementation plan was built based on its business, organizational culture, and company policies.
These companies have businesses, organizational cultures, and company policies that are different from Google. That’s why they cannot just copy Google’s OKR approach and expect similar results. As an analogy, just because the clothes look good on a supermodel on a runway doesn’t mean that they will look good on you.
For example, Google implements OKR at the individual employee level, which works well for them. However, based on our observations, it is better to implement OKR at a team level, as doing the former incorrectly might increase the workload of your employees.
So I suggest you don’t copy and paste Google’s OKR implementation plan blindly. It would help if you considered many factors when building up your own OKR plan, such as your company’s current challenges, your company mission and vision, and your current performance management system.
2. Provide OKR coaching for your employees
Have you come across the challenges below?
1). After studying so many OKR examples on the Internet, you still can’t write your own.
2). It is easy to write objectives but difficult to define key results.
3). Your subordinates have submitted their OKRs to you. How do you know those OKRs are good?
Many managers have the above challenges because they think writing OKRs is the same as writing smart goals, so they often ask their subordinates to look up OKRs themselves online.
In fact, OKR is more than just writing smart goals. The most significant benefit of implementing OKRs is translating your company’s vision and mission into employees’ daily execution.
It is not easy to write an effective OKR. However, identifying the right OKR is absolutely crucial—if you don’t have this right from the start, then the subsequent efforts you spend on this OKR will amount to nothing.
The benefit of providing staff with OKR coaching is enabling your employees to master the skill of writing effective OKRs quickly. Simultaneously, your employees’ ineffective OKRs will be corrected immediately to avoid wasting energy and time later.
Good OKR coaching does not take up a lot of your team’s time, and it serves to ensure that the organization’s resources are used for the most important goals.
3. Establish an OKR ongoing self-discipline system
Once you develop an OKR implementation plan for your company and coach your employees to write qualified OKRs, that’s half the battle won! The next part is to focus on high-quality OKR meetings.
Many companies I coached often have two myths about OKR meetings.
Myth 1: Some companies do not have OKR meetings at all. They view OKR as just a method for setting goals, and after setting the OKR, they assume that the team will magically achieve the OKR.
In fact, OKR is not just about “objective” and “key result” in the literal sense. It also includes an ongoing self-discipline system that helps you achieve your objective. Many people do not realize how vital this self-discipline system is. Having regular OKR check-in meetings is just one example of this ongoing self-discipline system.
Myth 2: Some companies believe that they have OKR meetings regularly. But when I attended their meetings, I found that their OKR meetings turned out to be just ordinary departmental meetings.
In effective OKR check-in meetings, your employees should not simply repeat what they have done in the past week but constantly review the gap between the current progress and objective and firm up future action plans.
For example, what did your team do to drive OKRs last week? What are the current challenges and obstacles? What will you do next week to continue to drive OKR? Who is responsible for doing these things?
4. Choose the right project leader for your OKR initiative
The most expensive mistake in OKR implementation is to delegate the OKR initiative to the wrong person. I once had a client who delegated the company’s OKR project to a junior HR generalist. As a result, the company wasted six months doing OKRs and led to a doubled turnover rate.
From this company’s top management perspective, OKR is just a performance management project.
Let me emphasize this: OKR is not a performance-related project. It is used to improve business results.
After this company started implementing OKR, neither the CEO nor any business unit leaders participated in OKR related work.
There is a rule in management: employees only do what the manager cares about.
Since the management does not attach importance to OKRs, employees also do not take OKRs seriously. In addition, whenever the team faced challenges, the junior HR generalist was not competent to help or advise.
The team became more and more anxious. Some people even left the company because of OKR. The management’s expectations of OKR were not fulfilled. In the end, all the OKR work was suspended.
This experience gave us a good lesson: the selection of the qualified OKR project leader should have two criteria:
1) The candidate should be from the business units. The OKR initiative is not a solo HR project. The presence of a business unit leader shows that the management takes OKR seriously.
2) The candidate should be in at least a middle-level management position. They should have a certain influence in the company and advanced communication skills to work with OKR coaches to handle the challenges in the project. When you delegate the OKR initiative to the wrong person, all the manpower, time, and resources you invest will be wasted.
To many top-performing companies, OKR is like a miracle tool in goal management: some companies use OKR to achieve 10 times growth; some companies use OKR to transform from traditional business to digital business; some companies use OKR to enhance employees’ intrinsic motivation.
These companies have leveraged OKR to their benefit because they understand how OKRs work and plan OKRs implementation carefully.
I hope that the above four tips can help your company implement OKR effectively and achieve your goals faster.
In addition, my mentor Ben Larmote has included his past 10 years of invaluable experience helping thousands of teams implement OKRs effectively in his latest book: The OKRs Field Book. If you want to study more hands-on case studies of OKRs implementation, I strongly recommend you read this book.