Top 5 mistakes to avoid when adopting OKRs

Objectives and Key Results is a powerful alignment and goal tracking methodology. Created by Andy Groove and popularized by John Doer, OKRs received a worldwide adoption nowadays. They align and motivate the team to set bold goals and achieve them. Organizations that use this approach focus on the most critical metrics and thus are more productive. 

However, even though OKR methodology is relatively simple, it’s also easy to implement it wrong and not get the expected result. Here we’ll discuss the most common mistakes companies make when applying OKRs and how to avoid them. 

1. Expecting immediate results

Almost no-one gets OKRs right the first time. Everyone fails. It takes time to understand the process, prioritize the Objectives, learn to communicate Objectives company-wide, define the Key Results to measure, create the process of tracking the most critical metrics, etc. 

Because of this, you won’t get any immediate results. You need to have patience and discipline to run several cycles with OKRs and learn to do them right. The Aha-moment might come in as long as 6 to 12 months, when all the team gets it, sees the benefits, and sticks to the process. 

Pro tip: Have the right expectations from the beginning, share them with the team, and don’t quit too early!

2. Too many Objectives or Key Results

OKRs are about focus and prioritization. Naturally, you cannot focus on everything. When everything is a priority — nothing is. Don’t try to put in the Objectives all the backlog of tasks and ideas in your organization. 

When planning OKRs, focus only on the top 3 most important priorities for the team. A good practice is 1-3 Objectives per team, with 2-5 Key Results for each Objective. More is not a good approach, the fewer — the better.

Even though OKRs can cascade, they are not for the day-to-day task tracking (use task tracking/agile boards/to-do lists for it).  

Pro tip: Focus on the top priorities only; don’t break OKRs to the individual daily tasks. 

3. Connecting OKRs and performance reviews

Objectives were not designed to be a performance evaluation tool. Even though OKRs correlate with the individual progress, it’s a bad idea to define the salary/bonus/promotion based on OKRs only. 

The reason is that OKRs were intended to be aspirational stretch goals that push the team to reach beyond what they think possible. Naturally, the team won't achieve all such goals. And if you define the performance evaluation based on the OKRs, the team won’t have the fail-friendly environment to experiment and try something new. In such a case, the group most likely would set as small targets as possible to make sure they achieve them and get the bonus. It would make all the OKR process ineffective.

Pro tip: use OKRs as one of the sources for the performance evaluation, but not as the only or the main one.  

4. Not communicating often enough

The same as with the company vision and strategy, there’s no such thing as overcommunication. If you “set and forget” your Objectives, most likely, the team would not achieve them. 

A good practice is to update the OKR progress on the weekly/bi-weekly basis, and have regular OKR check-ins with the team at least every month. This will help ensure that blockers are resolved on time, and the team corrects its initiatives promptly. Regular check-in and communication also help not to be lost in the business of day-to-day activities.

Pro tip: regular check-ins and progress updates increase the chance of successfully achieving your targets.

5. Not receiving the top-management buy-in

Hardly any team can successfully implement the OKRs without the top-management buy-in. They should lead with an example and show the company that OKRs are essential. If the top-management does not give it enough focus, none in the team would. In such a case, the OKR process will be most likely abandoned and forgotten. 

Pro tip: make sure you have the top-management buy-in before rolling out OKRs to the whole team.

Summary

Objectives and Key Results create alignment in the organization. They motivate the team members to achieve beyond what they think is possible. It’s an easy and flexible methodology to boost your team’s performance. Avoid these common mistakes, and your team would achieve breakthrough results!

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