Individual goals

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Individual OKRs add a management dimension to the whole OKR process. That's why we recommend starting them when you're comfortable with team goals. In our opinion, they also represent the most interesting benefits of OKRs.

Let's see what they entail and how to successfully give employees OKRs.

Benefits of individual OKRs

  • They tend to be much more engaging than team goals as employees are directly responsible for them.
  • With the direct ownership comes a stronger commitment and accountability.
  • They provide a very useful tool for performance reviews. To reiterate, OKRS aren't the performance review. But they do provide support for the conversation that ensues.

Adding individual goals

So when is the right time to introduce individual goals?

  • All team members understand the basics of OKRs.
  • The prior team goals haven't been too off-base.
  • Most employees participate in the goal setting phase.
  • You've discussed how goals affect performance, reviews, or bonuses.

How to introduce individual OKRs?

You can also introduce individual goals only for certain departments.

Talk about performance evaluations

People can (rightfully) be sensitive about performance. After all, it's used to drive raises and promotions. The rule of thumb is that the goal ratings shouldn't directly be used to allocate a bonus, deny a promotion, or determine a raise.

The keyword is directly. Of course, managers are going to look at how goals were conducted. But they will take into account different factors such as the difficulty of the goal, unforeseen events, how the goal lines up with the employee's longer term career, etc.

OKRs are a tool to facilitate the conversation during performance evaluation. When goals become the only measure of performance, bad things happen: sandbagging, backstabbing, and lack of cooperation.

Address fear of failure

Compensation matters aside no one wants to be the lowest performer and that fear can be paralyzing for some (see atychiphobia).

A supportive environment is key. It should be ok to fail if you try and aimed high. It doesn't mean putting up mediocrity. Here's an enlightening example from the former head of Google X labs.

Avoid micro-management

Another area where managers play a key role is in letting employees own the goal. It's tempting for managers to write the employees' OKRs but it's also generally a bad strategy.

Make it easy

There are a few things you can do as a manager to make it easier for employees:

  • Stop requesting status reports, leverage OKR check-ins. Systems like Workfuze can do it for you.
  • Stop hunting down specific metrics. If they're important enough, they should be associated with an OKR and tracked by the OKR tool you're using.
  • Simplify performance reviews and remove the traditional goals.
  • Skip the what have you done? part of team meetings. Everybody should be able to look that up. Ideally, your OKR tool will disseminate relevant information to the right people.
  • Take questions. People may have misconceptions that are up to you to clear up.