August 12, 2016

Align and Achieve: Accelerating Goals with OKRs


From Google to Spotify to Vox, the biggest and brightest companies know that using a managed objectives style of goal setting can push their employees and their initiatives to new heights. How can you make use of Objectives and Key Results (also called OKRs, for short) in order to move forward on your goals and achieve your team objectives?

Meeting Goals with OKRs

The purpose of OKRs is to provide laser focus to specific initiatives while getting everyone rowing in the same direction. That purpose can't be achieved without a clear view of the high level company objectives; developing high level OKRs that team members can align with provides accountability to the success of those goals. Such alignment can also help highlight which individual objectives are and are not successful in contributing to that highest level.

If you have a small marketing team, that alignment will even help them focus specifically on the highest impact items, meaning your team won't end up spread too thin due to OKRs. They'll be constantly working toward marketing goals more quickly, rather than floundering on goals that aren't aligned to company strategic initiatives.

Best Practices for Rolling Out Objectives and Key Results

In order for an Objectives and Key Results framework of goal setting to help your organization and team accomplish more, you need to do some significant preparation for rollout.

First, define a project stakeholder who will help drive the initiative. This person should enable other team members to see the value in OKRs and help elevate any questions to the appropriate respondee.

You'll also want to read resources about how your company initiatives fit into the OKR methodology. Importantly, the company objectives (the high-level pieces) should always align with your organization's "Why" and your overall strategic direction. Lastly, though you do want a coaching element to your OKR rollout (which can include a General Manager, coach, team, player format for initiatives), you don't want to overlap in resource allocation. Try to identify overlap in your OKRs upfront (prior to and during development) in order to mitigate bandwidth constrictions.

Now that you're prepared for rollout, keep in mind the following tips as outlined by Rick Klau in this video from Google Venture Labs and summarized by Jeremey Donovan.

Your OKRs should be:

• Publicly available to every member of your company
• Created, reviewed and revised quarterly and annually
• Backed by leadership support
• Outlined with lightweight, simple tools and processes
• Separate from overall performance evaluation

Your Objectives should be:

• Strategic, though not necessarily measurable (e.g. improve market position)
• Tied to both next-level up OKRs and individual motivations
• Limited (though you don't want just one objective, you also don't want seven or eight)
• Set largely by the individual employee
• Equally weighted (i.e. the total score is the normal average of KR grades)

Your Key Results should be:

• Measurable (e.g. Launch a new service or gain 50 net new followers)
• Slightly lofty so you're aiming high
• Self-graded on a quarterly basis (aim for an average score of .6 or .7 on a 0-1 scale — under .4 is an opportunity for improvement)
• Limited (three to four results per objective)
• Described as results, not activities (e.g. "launch" or "publish" instead of "improve" or "analyze")

With all of these best practices in mind, you're ready to get started on using OKRs to accelerate your goals. But we've got just a few more pieces of advice to keep you on the right track and in the right mindset.

Final Advice

One of the most important things to hold onto as you begin implementing an OKR framework is your sense of direction. Don't overthink the minutiae here; OKRs are about where you're going and how you can get there. So remember that the first round won't be perfect — and it doesn't need to be. Doing something to move toward your bigger goals is always better than doing nothing!

And finally, don't give up. While the idea might be overwhelming at first, more aspects of OKR implementation will come together with each new quarter. Over time, your team will better understand the direction you're all supposed to be rowing, and everyone will get better at focusing on what's ahead without neglecting what they can all do today to get there.

Amanda Nielsen

Amanda is a former New Breeder.


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