The first OKRs

Your first goal cycle won't look like subsequent ones.

A few tips that will help you get started with your first OKRs.

1- Get upper management on board

OKRs shouldn't be perceived as a micro-management tool but as an empowering communication medium. Employees should be able to turn to the company's management and see well formulated and regularly updated goals.

2- Ensure organization's ready

OKRs require a certain level of transparency and trust. You're giving ownership of work to employees, expecting in return honest assessment and results.

  • Crack down on office politics.
  • Resolve turf wars.

Don't expect OKRs to magically solve relationship problems for you. If anything, they'll be magnified as the lack of trust will show in poor results and people may try to shift the blame.

3- Know what's important

OKR is a lot about picking and focusing on results. Do you know what results are important? Is it your bottom line? Don't expect OKRs to set your strategy but when you have one, you'll be able to put in action more easily.

A good exercise is to identify the two or three main results (achieved or not) that were paramount for the company in the last few quarters. It could be a revenue number, a major product milestone, or less tangible items such as lower turnover.

4- Identify teams that are ready

Is each team used to thinking in terms of results? It could come in the form of metrics being shared internally. Perhaps a regular meeting where results are discussed.

If you find problematic teams, it's okay to leave them aside of the process at the beginning.

5- Adopt gradually

Companies have more success introducing OKRs gradually. If your organization has multiple teams, start with a few departments and only with team goals. Then add more teams, change the scope of the goal, and introduce individual goals as you learn.

We recommend selecting teams with good cohesion, internal communication, and cooperation. And on the flip side, avoiding teams with unhealthy competition, cliques, or high turnover.

6- Set modest company-wide goals

You may face writer's block with your first company-wide goals. One trick that often helps is to start with a limited scope.

Don't write a complete two year strategic plan but focus on what the company should achieve by the end of the following quarter. Perhaps you can formalize project deliverables or an initiative that is already underway?

7- Prepare communication

Often companies direct employees to this presentation of OKRs from Google and let them loose: go set your OKRs! While the video and the whole reWork website are great resources we recommend reading, they describe how Google works.

Take the time to introduce OKRs to employees. Be ready to answer questions by email or in meeting(s). It's critical to get the buy-in from employees. Here are a few topics that help frame the discussion.

  • motivation: why do we feel necessary to adopt OKRs?
  • timeline: how often will we set goals?
  • workflow: when should goals be set? When should goals be graded?
  • consequences: what happens when I fail my goal? What if I nail it? How does it affect my performance review or my bonus?
  • flexibility: how will we evaluate the process? When will we introduce individual OKRs?

8- Highlight benefits

It helps to highlight some of the expected benefits of OKRs, such as:

  • empowerment: you're the trusted expert and (help) set your own goals.
  • transparency: you're not in the dark and you'll know what everyone else on the team works on but also see and contribute to our strategy.
  • communication: you'll have a useful tool to collaborate with other teams.
  • clear expectations: managers will help you formulate clear expectations. Your goal is your north star.
  • time save: if employees fill status reports, spend time on weekly meetings, an OKR process will help keep everyone in the loop.

9- Respond to objections

Objections often reveal problems in the organization that you need to solve. Don't ignore them! Here are common objections.

"It sounds like a lot of work!"

In our experience, what takes time is deciding priorities and coming up with key results. The first time may take anywhere between a couple of hours and a whole day depending on whether you already know your priorities.

If you think this is not worth the time, you probably shouldn't use OKRs in the first place, because that's the whole point of the process.

"We don't have time to update goals."

Checking in goals is quite fundamental. It's how you signal progress to others and stay engaged with the goal. It's also how you can spot that a goal is out of sync with the plan.

Updating goals takes less than 10 minutes every week.

"We don't need goals, we know what to do."

Great, that'll make the process of writing the goals so much easier. But remember that the goal isn't just for your own benefit. It's also so others can understand what you're working on and how it relates to their own responsibilities.

"I can't capture everything I do in 3 goals."

OKRs aren't about describing all your job duties. They're about choosing a limited number of priorities and making sure these priorities align with the current business.

"My work isn't quantifiable."

For developers it could be a number of bugs, for online marketers the number of website visits. Still it's hard sometimes to attach a number to work. Especially when no such measure exists.

Prefer a milestone over a poorly defined metric. Check out our writing tips for more advice.