WARNING, OVERLOAD. Why OKRs can fall at the first hurdle

by Roger Longden | Nov 14, 2017

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Objectives and Key Results (OKRs for short) are changing how companies define and communicate success. Why not have a read through our free beginners guide to OKRs to get more information on how you can align and grow your company.

There are lots of reasons why OKRs might not get off to a flying start in your business. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you don’t throw in the towel and give up!

One of the classics I see – often when a business has tried to set OKRs up themselves – is a set of OKRs so lengthy and crammed full of detail that they are being used to measure and manage every action in the business. This is a recipe for disaster.

Don’t overload your OKRs by using them to manage every detail of the business. Instead, their purpose is to focus in on top priorities and ensure they are achieved.

Why OKRs should be a spotlight, not a floodlight

Overload your OKRs, and they take too long to update and discuss. This kills off people’s appetite to engage with them.

Here are a couple of textbook problems I often see in an early set of OKRs if there hasn’t been the right guidance available:

First, some companies are working with OKRs to keep track of everyday activities which, while important, are more about maintenance than growth or change. Now, if it’s a measure which could cause damage if it drops, keep an eye on it within your KPIs or health metrics. If it does drop to dangerous levels, then give it an OKR. If it’s safe and steady, don’t waste focus on it.

Take average aged debt as an example. Cash is the lifeblood of a business, right? So naturally you should track it. However, if it’s under control it doesn’t need an OKR. If you decide to change the way you manage it, give it an OKR which focuses in on this change.

Second, early OKRs are often loaded up with personal development goals (training, certifications and so on). Something like “Objective: Increase capabilities in using system X, Key Result: Jane becomes certified.” Unfortunately, this is a poor KR, as it’s just ticking a box rather than defining the outcome the business will achieve once Jane becomes certified.

On top of this, it’s highly likely that everyone will have at least one personal development goal, so that’s going to be the quickest way to overload OKRs if they all go in there.

I really believe personal development goals are vital, as are the conversations which wrap around them, so I’ve designed them into our Vision2Results (V2R) blueprint as a parallel process to working with OKRs so clients don’t experience overload.

Personal development goals are also likely to run to a different drumbeat to business OKRs, which should be discussed weekly or fortnightly. This cadence for personal development goals is likely to be overkill, something between monthly and quarterly would work better.

So if you keep checking in, and asking yourself and your team why OKRs need a spotlight focus, you’ll be boosting understanding and increasing your chances of success.