Finding Your Process

Strategies and tips to find the right balance for your organization

We've seen two opposite strategies: top-down and bottom-up. We often recommend a mix approach: company objectives are set first, then each team chooses a few objectives that falls directly under their responsibility (e.g. sales to increase revenue, R&D to develop a new product).

Then individual contributors can choose to contribute to other objectives that they're well positioned to positively impact.

The reality is that no process will be adequate for all teams. But you've got to start somewhere. Check out how the following cases influence how goals are set.

You're new to OKRs

When using goals for the first time, don't take more than you can chew. Our typical recommendation is to:

  • Start with company-wide and team goals only.
  • Set goals for a quarter.
  • Limit yourself to 1 or 2 goals. The idea is to understand the dynamics and fine tune your process - not be exhaustive.
  • Keep key results simple. Don't try to select metrics yet, you may get the wrong one.

Organization isn't focused

If your organization suffers from a lack of focus, you can use OKRs to focus everyone's attention on a few areas. You can relax the constraints as you get better results.

  • Write no more than 3 goals at every level (company, team, individual)
  • Make sure that every goal is aligned with a top level goal.
  • Limit cascading to 2 levels: company-wide then individual. Add a team level when your organization is large enough.

Internal fighting between teams, lack of cooperation

It happens. The failure to reach goals or sometimes even to agree on goals can reveal a deeper problem. The good news is that goals can help, the bad news is that OKRs aren't a panacea and you'll still be required to fix the root cause.

  • Make competing teams work on the same goal.
  • Force all goals to be public.
  • Share results. Depending on how you manage your OKRs, you could just share updates and progress.

Slow pace of execution and complacency

Is your organization executing slower than its competition? Goals can help you instill a sense of urgency.

Start with quarterly goals. If you need more velocity, set more aggressive goals. You could set monthly goals for some teams but don't go more frequent than that: goals should remain high level.

Low morale

Often a low morale can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the strategy of the organization. It's important to re-emphasize company-wide goals.

  • Don't start with team or individual goals until the strategy has been explained thoroughly.
  • Do consider feedback and don't set company-wide goals in a vacuum. Understand and address what hasn't worked in prior quarters.

Low engagement

If you notice low employee engagement, there are a few things you can do with respect to goals:

  • Have employees be more active in the goal setting process. It can range from involving them in the choice of key results all the way to employees writing the entire goal.
  • Show that you value feedback. Discuss all company goals as a group.

Too many meetings

This is a common fear: are we creating more work for ourselves? Most often, the goal discussion already takes place in another format: a weekly staff meeting, a monthly report, or informal water cooler exchanges.

When you update your goals, you're doing just that on your own time. Use the tool that lets you manage your goals to automatically distribute updates or even status reports.

Fast moving team

Although less common, it's possible to adopt shorter goals for some teams. In a company with quarterly goals, a team can have monthly goals to reflect a faster pace. This works well for certain stages of software project.

Becoming a high performing organization

If you don't have any of the issues mentioned above, adjust your process as follows:

  • Announce you want to go for "moonshots". Also see stretch goals. You no longer
  • Make it clear that compensation won't be automatically affected by the results of the goals.
  • Publicize the first few ambitious goals as examples - whatever their outcome.
  • Reward successful moonshots.
  • Reward failure too.

We find the talk of Astro Teller - former head of Google X - to be a good summary of what celebrating failure is.