3 things to stop your culture killing your OKRs

by Roger Longden | Mar 21, 2019

time icon 2 mins

Your culture kills your OKRs, stone dead

Sounds like a dramatic claim to make. I stand by it though as culture is the cause of more OKR failures than anything else I’ve seen.

A really classic assumption I often see made is that “by writing our goals as OKRs, we’ll be doing OKRs!” Another is that just setting up an OKR system means your OKRs will be flying in no time.  There’s no OKR silver bullet folks and culture kills OKRs.  If you’re going to get the full benefit from them, you need to take a “whole-systems” approach, and that includes asking: “is our culture is ready for them?”

The challenges OKRs demand of your culture boil down to trust and the sense of safety this allows – essential when you need people to be open, transparent, accountable and willing to stretch (and potentially fail, but in a smart way).

Here are 3 things I suggest you do to get your culture fit for OKRs:

Manage the change

It’s inevitable that a shift in working practices – like adopting OKRs – will bring many questions and likely some resistance.  It’s vital you get ahead of this.  Anticipate what these questions might be and prepare your answers.  Try to put yourself in their shoes; be clear about what’s in it for them – how will OKRs make their work easier/more impactful and what are the benefits to them?   Make sure you champion early successes and that you role model the ways of working you want to see.  I’ve seen a lack of change management derail OKRs dead.

Define high performance

To most, this just means results.  However, results taken in isolation are only part of the picture; results at the expense of anything else is rarely a great strategy for long-term success.  Defining “how” you want people to perform is vital and a major part of this for OKRs is how failure fits into the equation.  “Smart failure” is essential for innovative/challenging OKRs as you simply can’t realistically expect 100% every time; the “smart” element comes in the learning and adapting next time around.

Define & embed your values

This intentionally underpins both previous points: if you want to tackle the “how” in performance, then you need to get serious about the values in your business. 

Values > Beliefs > Behaviours

If you want to see specific behaviours then you need to shape your organisational values first.  These should then be embedded into the way you recruit, reward, recognise, promote and communicate.  OKRs can’t do this for alone for you.  The answer is to leverage your values to encourage and reinforce the trust I mentioned earlier, then you’ll be consciously creating a great culture for OKRs to thrive within.