How to introduce OKRs to the team

You’ve heard how setting OKRs helped Google become the success it is today. OKRs are meant to be simple, effective, and measurable. Yet, some managers struggle to get their team on-board on using OKRs.

I’ve spent years helping corporate managers set, monitor, and achieve business objectives. One of the confusions that led to hesitancy in adopting OKRs is the perception that setting goals and tracking results are burdensome.

Well, it’s not. 

“OKRs aren’t additional work; they’re the work.”, according to the creator of ‘Dear Andy’ at WhatMatters.com. I can assure you that OKRs improve your team’s efficiency and productivity when implemented correctly. 

So, how to implement OKRs and get your team aligned on the effort? 

1. Start with the why

Instead of diving straight into the OKR process, start by explaining why implementing OKRs is essential for the company. If your company has been struggling with mixed results, I’m sure that ambitious members would like to witness remarkable improvements. 

OKR turns the definition of ‘remarkable ’ into words and numbers, or rather, objectives and key results. Get the message across to your team that OKR ensures alignment, focus, transparency, and accountability. It works strategically and tactically to push them beyond existing limits. 

2. Decide on the OKR cadence

OKR cadence is the insider term that describes the duration of a complete OKR cycle. Google has separated OKR cadences into the following:

  • Strategic OKRs, are usually held annually. 
  • Tactical OKRs, are typically held quarterly. 
  • Weekly check-ins for tracking results and realigning assignments. 

There is no golden rule on the best OKR cadence length. It depends on the nature of your business and team size. Teams that need to respond to highly volatile business environments would do best with shorter OKR cycles. Large corporates in relatively stable markets can afford more prolonged OKR cadences.

Strategic OKRs involve long-term goals set by top-level management. Meanwhile, tactical OKRs are relevant for business units, such as IT, marketing, and customer support. 

I’ll suggest the following tactical cycle lengths for different sizes of companies.

  • 3-4 months if you’re managing an enterprise organization. 
  • 6-8 weeks for small-medium companies initiating their maiden OKR program.
  • 2-4 weeks if you’re a founder who needs more room to navigate and respond to dynamic elements. 

Coordinating OKR cycles amongst several teams can be quite challenging. 

Learn how to plan and manage OKR cadences to keep your team running efficiently. 

3. Conduct an OKR presentation

OKRs presentation is crucial if your team members have no prior knowledge about this collaborative goal-setting technique. To answer their doubts and curiosity, hold a presentation that covers introductions to OKRs and their basic principles. 

By the end of the intro to OKRs session, your team members should have mastered the basics of writing actionable OKRs. John Doer, the venture capitalist who brought OKR to Google, defines the OKR formula as follows:

I will (Objective) as measured by (this set of Key Results).

And if your employees have no prior exposure to OKRs, email them this e-book in advance. The e-book is ideal for team members keen on learning the basics of OKRs and how to define the objectives and key results.

4. Define your company’s mission 

A mission statement is a powerful tool that improves employees' morale, engagement, and productivity. Therefore, it's essential to set one that reflects your company's core values and makes it accessible to the team members.

Ideally, place your company's mission statement at strategic spots in the workplace. Doing so helps your team members to stay focused when setting OKR metrics. 

5. Start with a pivot group

Instead of implementing organizational-wide OKRs from the outset, start small by focusing on a pivot group. This allows you to test the viability of OKR and make necessary adjustments along the way. It also lets the specific manager and team members gain hands-on experience and understanding of OKR management.

Ideally, you’ll want to start with the top-level management team. When organizational leaders buy into the concept and benefits of OKR, it’ll be easier to influence and effect similar changes at the lower level. Alternatively, you can test the ORK program with a departmental team, such as sales and marketing.

Regardless of your choices, it’s vital to definite the test period and indicators of success. Usually, you will notice significant results within 2-4 months. For example, your marketing team improves the lead acquisition rate by 15%, or customer response time reduces by an average of 5 minutes. 

Once you’re satisfied by the positive changes that OKR brought to a specific business unit, use the success to inspire and scale the implementation. 

6. Assign basic rules

To get started on the right foot, you’ll need to lay down the basic rules for your team members. For example, have every member agree on the OKR cadence. I recommend starting with a quarterly cycle and conducting weekly meetings to check up on progress. This gives you ample time to correct the course should anything goes amiss. 

Then, your team needs to decide how many objectives to focus on and the number of key results per objective. According to John Doer, each team should have a maximum of 5 objectives and no more than 4 key results each. This is the sweet spot that allows your team members to strive toward measurable goals without feeling overwhelmed.

To get things moving on the ground, choose a specific team member who will set OKRs at the team and individual levels. The OKR advocate in your company is responsible for ensuring that every team knows how to set OKRs that make a substantial impact on progress. 

7. Conduct a strategic session with the team

It’s easier to suggest OKR implementation to employees with clear long-term objectives. This is why it’s holding a strategic OKR session with senior managers, top executives, and the CEO is critical. Use this session to discuss annual objectives, review past OKRs and set new ones. 

8. Organize weekly/bi-weekly check-ins

Bringing your team together weekly or bi-weekly for an OKR health check is helpful. You don’t want to risk veering too far off the track that correcting the course becomes costly, both in time and resources. Holding regular sessions of OKR check-ins helps every team member refresh their commitment, cross-check progress, and make appropriate adjustments to achieve the OKRs. 

Explore top-rated platform for OKR, 1:1, and performance management. Free up to 5 users.

9. Separate OKRs and performance appraisal 

One of the major OKR mistakes is to associate performance appraisal with OKR results. Integrating OKR and appraisal adds unnecessary stress to your team members and prevents them from giving their best in meeting the objectives. 

In some cases, using OKR results as a basis for performance review might backfire. Employees may resort to setting easier objectives to get impressive scores all the time. This defeats the purpose of setting OKRs in the first place.

10. Eliminate punishment for not achieving OKRs

OKRs are ambitious goals that inspire, motivate and align teams to give their best. However, weaponizing OKR as a tool to reprimand failure in achieving satisfactory results is counterproductive. When you associate OKRs and punishment, you create a fearful environment that prevents people from trying.

Instead, decouple OKRs from rewards and punishment to encourage team members to set moonshot goals. These ambitious goals will ultimately propel the company to greater heights. If your team fails to achieve the OKRs, use the experience to recalibrate the effort and pursue subsequent attempts. 

11.  Facilitate team OKRs rather individual OKRs

You’ve might come across opinions that suggest placing equal attention between the team and individual OKRs. That’s easier said than done, according to the clients I’ve worked with. Emphasizing individual OKRs could potentially derail your entire OKRs effort.

When you prioritize individual OKRs, employees become overly focused on their personal goals and neglect collaborative efforts on a broader scale. Besides, any changes on team-level OKRs will result in tedious recalibration for each employee. 

As individual OKRs are highly-personalized, you can’t help but refer to the results when reviewing their performance. This is against the principle of OKRs, which are meant to encourage innovation and not be a pre-determinant for promotion or reprimands. 

Instead, train your focus on team OKRs, which measure the collective effort of every team member. Team OKRs encourage collaboration and eliminate individual boundaries that hinder growth. It also eliminates unnecessary meetings and bureaucratic processes.

12. Organize retrospective meetings and celebrate success

Don’t move from one OKR cadence to another without doing some deep soul-searching of the results. Whether your team has achieved the goals or not, a thorough review at the end of the OKR cycle provides valuable insights to all members. It also strengthens the perception that you’re placing great importance on OKRs as a strategic collaborative tool. 

During the OKR reporting, credit the successes to the respective team members. This helps them move towards larger goals, stay motivated, and strive harder in the next cycle. It’s also an excellent opportunity to review and find opportunities for improvements in other unfulfilled objectives. 

13. Don’t set and forget

Some companies have the best intention when they introduce OKRs to their team. Without the right tools, they get mired in day-to-day tasks and soon forget about the objectives and results. Soon, the OKRs become a forgotten note instead of a driving force behind the team’s effort. 

One of our clients, Uptech, was having trouble keeping track of OKRs for their team members. After discarding spreadsheet tracking in favor of Plai, their entire team now monitors progress, increases team awareness, and runs regular check-ins effortlessly.  

Final Thoughts

I’ve shown you proven ways of how to set OKRs and get your team on board the practice with ease. At first, the process might seem deceptively intimating. However, your team will share the same enthusiasm when given a proper explanation, training, and guidance from top leadership. They’ll also benefit from Plai, which allows them to set actionable OKRs on a smart, intuitive dashboard. 

Try Plai for free now.

Andriy Bas

CEO & Co-founder

Founder of 3 products and product development agency @Uptech before 25. Use and consult about OKRs, performance management, and team leadership for 4+ years.