Last Saturday I was talking to the CEO of a growing startup, he was talking about how he implemented OKRs in his organization and failed in their first two OKR cycle and gave up on OKRs.
Facing a similar challenge? Read this blog on aspects of the OKR cycle and how to set it right.
A system for managing agile goals and performance starts with a clearly defined OKR cycle, with regular events for planning, aligning, updating, reflecting and adjusting.
What is a OKR cycle?
An OKR cycle comprises activities that help startups to set, track, and achieve objectives. To use the cycle to get the best results, startups need to understand two basic things.
The first is that setting goals is not enough and it is vital to align them across the organization. It is also important for the entire organization to work together to fulfill them.
Secondly, startups need to be flexible enough to adapt to situations based on their experience. This helps them to face uncertainties with greater efficiency and confidence.
3 Steps of OKR Cycle
According to Felipe Castro, OKR TRAINER, SPEAKER, and AUTHOR, a typical OKR cycle, has 3 steps that are repeated after every 60 to 90 days.
1Create high-quality OKRs
The cycle commences with the creation of high-quality OKRs.
One should never confuse OKRs with daily tasks. OKRs should be engaging and actionable and should help measure impact.
OKRs should be creative and based on the perspective of employees. They should also help teams to understand the various metrics and how they relate to those OKRs. This will make the teams accountable for the organization’s overall OKRs.
2Alignment of OKRs
The next step is to cross-align the OKRs with the organization and the teams.
Aligning OKRs is an ongoing process and includes mapping the interdependencies between the teams.
Teams should discuss the proposed OKRs with their managers. It is the task of managers to improve those OKRs by coaching and challenging the teams.
3Achieve The Objectives
Startups should make objectives a part of the organizational rhythm.
Teams should not consider OKRs as work they have to do apart from their regular tasks. Instead, they should make align their daily tasks with their OKRs and make them a part of their work.
To accomplish this, the teams must work to achieve the OKRs after setting and aligning them. To reach the OKRs, they must track and act upon them.
In the Achieve step, the weekly OKR Check-in is very crucial for measuring the OKRs and adjusting corresponding initiatives.
OKR’s success depends on adopting the check-in. Rather than adding more meetings, the goal should be to make them more productive and focus on value instead of tasks.
Different phases of an OKR cycle
Most startups use strategical 1-year objectives and tactical quarterly objectives. Learning about the different phases of a typical OKR cycle makes it easier for startups to plan the same. A typical OKR cycle consists of the following phases.
4-6 weeks before the year ends
This is the time for leaders to start brainstorming OKRs for the following year. They devise the annual plan and set OKRs for the first quarter and give direction to the company. These plans and OKRs should be shared publicly.
Leaders should seek feedback about the same across all organizational levels.
2-3 weeks before year ends
During this period, startups confirm the organizational objectives for the next year and quarter. Once decided, communicate the objectives to everyone across the company.
This is also the right time for teams to set their objectives in tandem with organizational objectives.
1 week before the year ends
Startups hold strategic meetings with all stakeholders, one week before the start of the quarter. These meetings aim to finalize the objectives and establish coordination between teams. The meeting also provides an opportunity to adjust the objectives one last time.
They also provide a platform to map interdependencies and align teams.
2 weeks into the cycle
A couple of weeks after the start of the OKR cycle, it is time to track its progress. For this startups conduct short weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with the teams.
The teams are made aware of high-level progress made during the first two weeks. These check-in meetings are short and are not held to conduct a full review of all objectives.
6 weeks into the cycle
This is the time to organize longer meetings for check-ins with the top management and with teams. The meetings discuss the progress and performance of teams.
Startups also rate the objectives during these meetings and make any necessary changes to enhance their efficiency.
3 weeks before the quarter ends
This is the time when startups begin repeating the steps of the previous cycle. They hold brainstorming sessions with the top management to set OKR objectives for the next quarter.
Once again, it is important to involve all levels of the organization in this discussion. It is equally important to communicate the same and align them with annual strategic objectives.
1 week before the quarter ends
During this phase of the OKR cycle, teams create new objectives that align with the company’s tactical and yearly objectives.
They also assess the previous cycle. This helps to identify the activities that they did right along with those that need improvement.
End of the quarter
At the end of the quarter, another strategic meeting is organized to finalize the OKRs. These OKRs are then communicated to all teams and departments.
During this phase teams also conduct a self-assessment to understand what they achieved during the previous cycle.
OKR cycle best practices
Learning about the different phases of the OKR cycle is not enough. Following the below-discussed best practices for the OKR cycle helps maximize its benefits.
1Address the issue of why
The OKR cycle is likely to enhance the number of meetings that employees need to attend. This can overwhelm them unless the management clarifies the need for increased meetings.
Explaining why every step of the cycle is important reduces the sense of work overload.
It also inspires individual employees to share their ideas to improve the OKR cycle.
1Plan the OKRs in advance
Planning the OKRs at least 2-4 weeks before the beginning of the next quarter improves the efficiency of the cycle.
It ensures that the gives enough time for the startups to improve the OKRs to drive business growth. It also means that the company can start the next OKR cycle without further delays.
3Let everyone in the team know the objectives
Communicating the OKR objectives across teams is essential to establish their validity.
It helps the stakeholders to gain a better understanding of what they need to do and when.
Business leaders should discuss the organization’s key quarterly directions and focus areas with their teams.
Similarly, managers should communicate the organizational objectives to their team members. They should also seek feedback and ideas about the best ways of achieving them.
4Invest additional time
The proper execution of the complete OKR cycle requires the stakeholders to invest additional time. That is why startups need to adjust and optimize the OKR agenda while ensuring that it serves its basic purpose.
5Seek inspiration from OKR examples
Startups implementing and executing the OKR cycle for the first time might find the process complicated.
That’s why it is advisable to study OKR examples and seek inspiration from them. This helps startups to minimize the errors in setting objectives and accurately following the various steps of the cycle.
6Opt for an event-driven process to structure the OKR cycle
Using an event-driven process to structure the OKR cycle improves employee engagement in startups.
It also helps to promote open and tangible conversations that make agile goal management simpler.
It also encourages strategic thinking besides boosting collaboration across the entire OKR cycle.
7Expect challenges during the OKR cycle and embrace them
The OKR cycle helps startups identify the challenges and inefficiencies of the business.
While the OKR cycle does not pose any challenges on its own, it helps to highlight those prevalent within the organization.
Expecting such challenges and embracing them will help startups to overcome the same. Using this approach helps to gradually refine the process and make it perfect.
Tips on making the OKR cycle successful
Given below are useful tips that can help startups to ensure the success of the OKR cycle.
Duration of OKR cycle
It is advisable to have an OKR cycle extending no longer than 2-3 months. Smaller startup can even opt for OKRs extending over shorter periods of 6 to 8 weeks.
Startups should try to emulate the process adopted by agile teams to ensure better check-ins and seek inspiration.
Review OKRs that haven’t been achieved and add them again if necessary for the next quarter. In the event that a Key Result was missed for more than two consecutive periods, most likely it will not be needed in the following period.
Repeat Repeat Repeat
Startups should not shy away from repeating the objectives across multiple cycles with updated key results.
Though OKR Cycle is a powerful tool to drive a successful OKR adoption, it may take several attempts for a start-up to get it right. The only key to getting it right is to keep on trying till you get it right.